Writer/Director Miranda Nation’s first feature is a complex, psychological sometimes erotic thriller that worms its way into you without the aid of violence or bloodshed or obvious good guys and bad guys. Essentially, this is a four-hander where the focus on the relationships keeps shifting from Claire and Dan to Dan and Angie, to Angie and Brett, to Dan and Brett, to Claire and Brett but most importantly, to Clair and Angie. It’s a film where we are never quite certain that what we see is what we see. Sometimes that’s literal (when Claire sees small creatures crawling about that we’re pretty sure are not really there) and sometimes it’s obfuscation (when Claire sees Dan with Angie does she really see what we’re all thinking she sees?) Part of the power of this film is the uncertainty about what lies beneath the surface of the characters and the unexpectedness of how they interact with each other. When Clair orchestrates a meeting with Angie and discovers that the teenager is pregnant, she is less concerned with the possibility that Dan might be the father than she is with caring for this child that Angie seems not to want – with the unfairness of her own loss of a much wanted baby against an unborn child that seems unwanted by its young mother. It’s a tangled story where each character is vulnerable to the secrets they hold and where lines of trust and honesty are crossed in ways that might just be irreparable. But, above all, it’s a story that treats its audience with intelligence and asks us to consider how much responsibility we each take for our actions (or inactions) regardless of how much we might feel that there are explanations for the seemingly bad things we sometimes do.
The four key cast members are all terrific. Gordon, at the heart of the story, carries much of the movie with ease in a compelling and finely judged performance that, necessarily, relies more on what she communicates of the internal world of her character than it does on the externalised dialogue. But she’s not alone in the strength of the performances on the screen. DeJonge, in particular, finds the wild and dangerous edge of Angie laced with enough vulnerability to win us over to her cause. I do wonder whether the final image of Angie is a false note in an otherwise well-made film... but then again, it’s a moment that has a nice ring of truth about it, even if it does seem a little neat.
For those with local knowledge, you’ll be quick to recognise that the film is shot in and around the Victorian coastal city of Geelong and makes excellent use of both the beauty and the ugliness of its locations. In particular, the cinematography by Bonnie Elliott brings a strong, moody and at times foreboding visual sense to the film that perfectly captures the idea that Claire sees much of the world through the lens of her own camera. There’s also a great soundtrack to underscore the visuals featuring the work of the incomparable Lisa Gerard along with James Orr and Raul Sanchez.
Nation’s screenplay is a lean and elegant work that seems to provide the space within which the work of the cast and of the cinematographer do more than just bring the script to life. They are spaces that allow the actors and the crew to complete the way in which the story is told. Yes, it is sometimes slow and brooding in its telling and that might not be to everyone’s taste but, for me, the pace showed a confidence in the director knowing that this is a slow-burn of a story and deserves the right amount of time to ferment.
It's a shame that our film industry is still at a stage where it seems remiss not to point out that this is a film written and directed by a woman with many talented women in key crew roles and a powerful female-focused story. It would be nice to think that we might get to a point in the not-too-distant future where we can just focus on how good the film is, rather than the rarity of the means by which it got made.