Katrina Skinner (Emily Barclay) is a single mum living with her baby and her single dad John (Robert Morgan), manipulating him to support her, just as she manipulates all men - using sex as currency, and an abnormal determination to get what she wants. Her long, shiny red nails, her hair and her mini skirts are flags of aggression, and when dad starts to urge her to get a job and generally get real, Katrina fights back. Her beloved brother Danny (Laurence Breuls) in jail for murder, her boyfriend Rusty (Michael Dorman) is critical of her mothering, her aunt Dianne is most disapproving, and only poor, slightly 'off-centre' Kenny (Antony Hayes) considers her wonderful without reservation. So Katrina gets what Katrina wants ...
Review by Louise Keller:
Wild and out of control, she's rebellion in a mini-skirt. Hell in high heeled boots. Emily Barclay's Katrina is a wonderful invention, her sexy, bold exterior masking a cold, heartless vamp who instinctively manipulates everyone around her. We know she is bad in the true sense of the word, but we can't help but be fascinated by her. Barclay is sensational, combining defiant callousness with a youthful innocence that begs forgiveness. Paul Goldman's Suburban Mayhem is brash, ballsy and full of brio. Cloaked in a coat of black humour, it's a bold Australian drama that stabs at weaknesses and revels in misfortune. But surprisingly, the tone is uplifting. And best of all, we are glad we took the trip to suburbia.
In her first screenplay, writer Alice Bell unleashes high energy, emotional chaos. The story unravels with restraint, as its characters are interviewed about the events. We hear from Katrina's auntie, her manicurist, her boyfriend and the local cop as they share their thoughts about the most talked about girl in town and the gruesome murder that has just taken place. The interviews are like punctuation to the central plot to which Katrina holds the key. The men are weak and Katrina uses all her wiles to exploit their weaknesses. Nursing her baby or giving oral sex are simply part of the day's work. Her Achilles heel is her relationship with her brother Danny (Laurence Breuls), now locked up for a violent murder. As a result, her targets are boyfriend Rusty (Michael Dorman), her desperate father (Robert Morgan) and Danny's slow-witted friend Kenny (Anthony Hayes). All the performances are tops, with Hayes especially moving, Mia Wasikoska appealing as Katrina's innocent manicurist, and Genevieve Lemon knowing as her savvy Auntie Dianne.
Mick Harvey's soundtrack screams the unbridled angst of the characters that are being swept out of their own control. There's tension as Goldman keeps up the pace and our interest, until the film screeches to its shocking and satisfying conclusion. Watching Katrina is a bit like watching a car crash - we don't feel we should watch, but can't help ourselves.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Alice Bell's screenplay explores the explosive nature of human relationships without going out of the suburbs. Fascinated by a spate of suburban family crimes, she has created a scenario that measures how far a young woman will go to impose her will on others simply for the sake of getting her way. It's the temper tantrums of a three year old blown up to murderous proportions.
But Bell and director Paul Goldman don't make this so implausible as to be a comedy; it's a drama tinged, admittedly, with darkly comic elements, but there isn't any farce to let us off the hook. Centred on Emily Barclay's Katrina, the film is entirely in her hands and her performance is magical. She has created a character that is the total opposite to her real self (as far as we can tell from a few meetings), but fully alive, vibrant, dangerous and sure of her powers. Barclay's performance stands out, but the entire cast is excellent, down to the smallest support roles like Susan Prior's traumatised Christine, when she hears that her Detective husband (Steve Bastoni) has been having an affair with Katrina.
(New Zealander Barclay made her mark here with the multi award winning In My Father's Den .)
The games Katrina plays are not for kids, and when she sets out to get her way, better get out of her way. Her characterisation is invaluably helped by terrific make up and costume design, and Paul Goldman's direction - complete with cinematic flashes of style - explain why the film was invited to screen at Cannes 2006 in Un Certain Regard, a showcase for individual vision.
Paul Goldman's achievement is to make us engage with a film in which the central character is attractive to look at physically but hideously deformed morally, and the resolution doesn't serve the usual ends of good overcoming evil. But he couldn't have done it without Emily Barclay. Suburban Mayhem is compelling, so much so you don't have to add 'for an Australian film'.
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SUBURBAN MAYHEM (MA)
CAST: Emily Barclay, Michael Dorman, Robert Morgan, Anthony Hayes, Laurence Breuls, Steve Bastoni, Mia Wasikoska, Genevieve Lemon, Madeleine Jaine, Susan Prior
PRODUCER: Leah Churchill-Brown
DIRECTOR: Paul Goldman
SCRIPT: Alice Bell
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Humphreys
EDITOR: Stephen Evans
MUSIC: Mick Harvey
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Nell Hanson
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 26, 2006