In the aftermath of the 2005 Cronulla race riots in Sydney between youths from Sydney's Lebanese and white populations, two carloads of hotheads from both sides of the fight are destined to collide. Sincere, though misguided, intent gives way to farcical ineptitude as ignorance, fear and kebab-cravings unfold, and what was meant to be a retaliation mission turns into something neither side could have imagined.
Review by Louise Keller:
The incongruous, the shocking and the ridiculous are thrown together with great gusto by actor, writer and director Abe Forsythe in this ultra black Aussie comedy. Set in the aftermath of the Cronulla riots of 2005 as racial suburban warfare starts to bubble, Forsythe pushes boundaries beyond their comfort zones. There is no safety net when it comes to black comedy and there is plenty to offend the uninitiated - from racism, expletive-punctuated dialogue, violence and the politically incorrect. Forsythe has effectively captured the mood and sense of place, although much of the humour fails to fire. I especially like the use of counter intuitive music - like the juxtaposition of the happy strains of We Wish You A Merry Christmas with the ugliness of brutality on the streets.
The film begins with a brief over-view of the December riots, which clearly sets the mood. The integration into the storyline and our introduction to the key characters is seamless, as we are taken into their different realities. Revenge is the objective of Nick (Rahel Romahn), a young lout with a buzz cut and a drug habit, who is keen to entice his studious Muslim friend Hassim (Lincoln Younes) onto the streets to create mischief. Jason (Damon Herriman) is an Aussie keen to protect his turf and recruits his pacifist, bong-smoking friend Shit Stick (Alexander England) to help protect the streets. Ditch (Justin Rosniak) tags along too; his head is covered in a bandage following his latest tattoo acquisition, which may or may not complement his collection of Ned Kelly inspired ones. (There is a lovely pay off to this subplot.)
Shit Stick (or Shane, as he is called in the film) is a laid back dude who works at the local video store and hangs out with his Down Syndrome cousin Evan (Christopher Bunton), who, when he is not learning to drive, just wants to watch Lord of the Rings. (Bunton, in his first film role, is outstanding.)
David Field delivers one of his best recent roles, playing a flamboyant, gay methamphetamine dealer while Harriet Dyer is irritating as Jason's demanding girlfriend Stacey, whose pop-out pregnant stomach is used as a comic landmark. Her craving for kebabs comes at an inopportune time.
The comic elements sit rather uncomfortably next to the graphic violence, so the film does not play as funnily as it is probably intended. There is inevitability about where the story is heading and when the two carloads of hotheads finally meet, there is a collision in more ways than one. All the performances are convincing and it is a shame that the ending dips and falls rather flat. The marriage of contentious subject matter and comic entertainment is not an easy one.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It was 13 years ago (2003) that Abe Forsyth made his debut feature, a comedic take on Ned Kelly, titled Ned (in which he played the title role). Maybe Ned Kelly is becoming something of a signature item for Forsyth, given the use of his iconic image in one of this film's better moments, which I won't describe for fear of spoiling the revelation. It's clever, double sided humour, the kind I could have done with in greater quantities.
There are far too few moments of wit and far too many stretches of raucous swearing, and it's difficult to get even black comedy working in such a negative and crude environment as these characters find themselves in. But the biggest problem for me is the film's self-conflicting tone; it is promoted as a black comedy, but there aren't enough funny bits, and expectations are dashed when it turns into a rather nasty tragedy, with violence and hate paraded as signatures of the tribal conflict in which the story is set. Black comedy needs far more nuance than Forsyth provides.
I get the impression Forsyth doesn't like any of his characters, except perhaps the secret star of the film, Christopher Bunton, playing Evan, an empathetic young man with Down Syndrome, who is both smart and sensitive. The other terrific performance comes from David Field as Vic, a meth dealer who runs a mansion full of Thai boys; his edgy characterisation is a real blast.
Lincoln Younes as Hassim and Rahel Romahn as Nick make a terrific duo, a kind of odd couple, Nick on a short fuse, Hassim slow burning. Indeed, all the performances are punchy, not least Harriet Dyer as the pregnant and potty mouthed Stacey - but then they are all foul mouthed.
Perhaps the film's message, that ugly racial conflict a la the 2005 Cronulla riots can only lead to mutual assured destruction, excuses its excesses, but not for me. And I am a fan of black comedy.
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DOWN UNDER (MA15+)
CAST: Lincoln Younes, Damon Herriman, Rahel Romahn, Michael Denkha, Harriet Dyer, Alexander England, David Field, Chris Bunton, Marshall Napier
PRODUCER: Jodi Matterson
DIRECTOR: Abe Forsyth
SCRIPT: Abe Forsyth
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Lachlan Milne
EDITOR: Drew Thompson
MUSIC: Piers Burbrook de Vere
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Nicholas Dare
RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: StudioCanal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 11, 2016