A group of strangers take refuge in an outback pub, during a freak rainstorm and flood. Among them are mother and son Angela Punch-McGregor and Charlie Jarratt, who have apparently fled from Phil (John Jarratt), the supposedly dangerous, drunk husband and father of the aforementioned. Other stranded peoples include lesbian Sacha Horler and best mate Rebecca Smart, and the pub owners Craig McLachlan and Jessica Napier. Phil turns up, of course (apparently out of jail...or was it rehab?), to involve everyone else in his domestic squabbles, which apparently revolve around money Phil feels he is owed. Also turning up is Chris Haywood as a cop who has been hired by Punch-McGregor to take care of Phil, if you know what I mean. With the flood keeping them trapped, and the increasingly frazzled and unstable Phil ranting and raving, everyone’s lives are now in danger. Or is his unstable behaviour mostly a result of his unfair treatment by a greedy wife?
Although directed by Kevin James Dobson (“Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain”, and TV’s “Babylon 5”) this 2009 Aussie thriller is a Jarratt family affair. It stars John and son Charlie Jarratt, and John co-wrote and co-produced the film too. Cody Jarrett is credited as co-screenwriter/co-producer as well, and although there is a spelling difference in the last name, IMDb has a link to an “Australian Story” episode that seems to be about Jarratt (and “Wolf Creek”), and I’ve read elsewhere that they are husband and wife (So why doesn’t Cody take her husband’s name then? Weird, though marrying someone with such a similar last name is weird too). The thing is, though, that the most memorable work in the film is by director Dobson. Sure, a director is only as good as the talented crew around him (cinematographer, editor, composer, etc), but this is an atmospheric and particularly well-shot film for something clearly shot on digital. The composition and lighting are particularly impressive for what I assume was a fairly low-budget project. The use of stormy weather almost becomes a character itself, it’s actually very convincingly staged. It might just be the rainiest film I’ve seen since “Hard Rain”. Dobson does the best he can with the material and cast at hand. There’s no getting around the fact that this is a good-looking film with a familiar story, clichéd characters, and uneven performances. The story is pure cliché, right down to McLachlan’s attempts to get back to town and see Napier, whilst villain Jarratt is also heading there, and bringing a helluva rainstorm with him. It’s the kind of ‘noble hero must try to get to loved ones before the evil force of nature (i.e. Jarratt) beats him to it’ thing. Admittedly, it goes beyond that, eventually but even then it becomes a very stagey, dialogue-heavy story that isn’t any better.
The best performance comes from old pro Chris Haywood, who walks off with the film...unfortunately he walks off far too early for my liking. Still, it’s a wonderfully forceful, grim-faced, slightly hammy performance (in the best Bill Kerr tradition), the best Haywood performance in years. Sadly, John Jarratt himself is also hammy, but to the opposite effect. He’s completely ineffectual as the film’s chief menace. He’s playing a much more mundane menace than he did in “Wolf Creek”, but unfortunately, he plays it like De Niro in the overrated remake of “Cape Fear”- he’s overbearing to the point of being cartoony. I guess it was hard for Dobson to tell the co-writer and co-producer to dial it down a bit, but he should have, as it derails the film with his fatuous, comical performance. It just seems an ill-fit with the rest of the film, in terms of tone. Aside from his work in “Wolf Creek”, the scariest thing about Jarratt is that based on his somewhat bizarre off-screen behaviour in recent years, and his acknowledgment of alcohol problems in the past, there’s the sense that he might really be a bit of a drunken bastard in real-life. I doubt he’s that bad (and it’s unfair to speculate based on tabloid TV reports), but it’s kinda morbid that as co-writer and actor, he’s written himself such an ugly role and I couldn’t shake it from my mind. It’s even more disturbing if Cody is indeed his wife. He should also be raked over the coals for giving himself the cheesy one-liner ‘Daddy’s home!’, suggesting “The Shining” is a favourite film in the Jarratt clan.
The scariest thing in the entire film is the following credit: ‘Music by Craig McLachlan’. Beware the wrath of Check 1-2! Speaking of the former soapie star turned one-hit wonder, he’s little better than Jarratt. His stoic hero schtick is painfully forced, as though the actor (who isn’t without talent) is a little rusty in front of the camera. Oh look, Craig knows how to swear, what a hard-arse he is! I did like him referring to Jarratt as ‘Fuck knuckle Phil’, however. I have no idea what that means, but it’s hilarious. It’s just strange that two out of the four most senior actors (the other two being Haywood and Angela Punch-McGregor), are two of the weakest in the film. As for Jarratt the Younger, I think it’s almost a form of child abuse for dear ‘ol dad to put the clearly novice actor (in his first film role, and perhaps last) in such an important role. He’s well out of his depth, though it isn’t quite as catastrophic as Sophia Coppola in “The Godfather Part III”. There is fine support, however, from Jessica Napier, Sacha Horler, and former child star Rebecca Smart, who deserved more screen time in my opinion (despite her character being a complete moron at times).
Overall, this is a great-looking film, but with a story you’ve seen before (and better), a stagey feel, and uneven performances, it’s not as good as you would like it to be.