Daniel (Sebastian Gregory), a shy and introverted 15 year old boy, lives in Sunshine Hills, a suburb living in the grip of fear following the rumoured abductions of three teenage girls. Daniel's two main obsessions are photography and his neighbour Suzy (Tahyna Tozzi), a 17 year old Lolita, a dangerous combination of youth and sexuality. Using his crush to her advantage, Suzy asks Daniel that in exchange for her friendship he must bring her secrets and photographs of the neighbours and houses that surround them. Perhaps they can find the killer.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Suburbia is more and less than we ever imagine; there are all sort of suburbs, but those peaceful, well kept garden suburbs of the middle class in the West, the bourgeoisie if you like, have a fascination for many filmmakers, including Australians. Behind the nice doors are not so nice people. Like villages, suburbs float on gossip, rumour ... and in the case of Sunshine Hills, fear. Or so debuting filmmaker Dean O'Flaherty says in his notes to the film. The problem is we don't really witness this fear - we're told it is so.
That aside, Beautiful is indeed beautifully shot, much more gentle on Australian suburbia than most such films, decorated with close ups of flowers, small native animals and other semi-wildlife, and Paul Mac's score is impressive, helping the film along. Performances are all great, with Sebastian Gregory an absolute find as Daniel the 15 year old who is shunned by his peers. He never knew his mother, is disconnected from his father Alan (Aaron Jeffery) and has only his stepmother for support. Until he gets to know Suzy (Tahyna Tozzi) next door, a gorgeous young blonde who parades herself on the front lawn in her bikini, knowing he's watching, and taking photos.
She becomes a femme fatale when she sets Daniel a task in return for her friendship: snoop around. In the context of the rumours about abducted girls, this task has an edge to it. Her parents (Erik Thomson, Deborra-lee Furness) are jittery as any teenage girl's would be, and this is the closest we come to seeing that fear.
Whatever O'Flaherty wants to say is hard to decipher in this intriguing but also frustrating film. The pace is often as slow as the snail caught on a leaf in one shot and there are some elements that defy credibility - especially in the final act. Clearer storytelling would bring into focus the various aspects of the film that are scattered throughout with nothing to glue them together.
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CAST: Sebastian Gregory, Tahyna Tozzi, Deborra-lee Furness, Aaron Jeffery, Erik Thomson, Asher Keddie, Socratis Otto, Peta Wilson
PRODUCER: Kent Smith
DIRECTOR: Dean O'Flaherty
SCRIPT: Dean O'Flaherty
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Kent Smith
EDITOR: Marty Pepper, Dale Roberts
MUSIC: Paul Mac
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Robert Webb
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Jump St Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 5, 2009