Dir/scr: Murali K Thalluri. Aust. 2006.94mins

An impressive debut feature from a 20-year-old withno previous film training nor experience, 2:37proves is a gripping teen suicide drama that forces audiences to confront thechallenges of growing up in wrenching style.

Aside from showcasing the compellingdirection of director Murali K Thalluri,it also demonstrates the tenacity ofthe young Indian-Australian; he and main collaborator Nick Matthews were forcedto raise their own funds after the work's theme - and their inexperience - werepassed on by public funding bodies at home in Australia.

After its premiere at Cannesin Un Certain Regard, 2:37 openedMelbourne before its North American premiere at Toronto next month, where itplays in the vanguard section. In Australia, where it enjoys a 50-screenrollout from August 17, it should strike a chord with younger audiences throughits graphic portrayal of sex and violence - including a painfully horrificblood-spurting death scene and rape sequence - although Thalluri'sexplicit treatment of teen suicide has earned it an 18 rating. Beyond home itssubject matter and strong buzz should see it play well to younger arthouse crowds. Arclight hasalready concluded sales with SND in France, Manga inSpain and Cinequanon in Japan, with more expected.

2:37 takesits title form the precise time on a sunny afternoon when one of the seven leadcharacters graphically commits suicide at their well-heeled, all-white highschool. Straight after the opening credits, the audience witness the streams ofblood and appalled faces of staff and students - but not who the victim is.

The narrative thenbacktracks to earlier that morning and the introduction of the suspects in whatbecomes a whodunit-to-themselves: the girl with the unwanted pregnancy(Palmer), the achiever unable to win his father's respect (Sweet), the limpingoutcast with a bladder problem (Baird), the girl with an eating disorder (Spillane), the gay drug user (Mackenzie), the athlete witha secret problem (Harris) and the girl who sees everyone's pain (Mellor). Thenotion that any one of these disturbed youngsters could be about to kill themselves is a clever and compelling idea, giving the filmincreased tenseness and power.

As such 2:37 most readily brings to mind Gus Van Sant'sElephant (which itself tipped a nodto Alan Clarke's 1989 TV film of the same name). Aside from the death-at-high-schooltheme, the fluid photography along corridors and use of fractured time frames thatallow moments to be rerun from different viewpoints recall the visual style ofthe 2003 Palme d'Or winner.

But Van Sant'sclinical, nihilistic take on a US high school massacre was disinterested incharacter development or the cause and effect of conventional plotting. Incontrast 2:37 majors oncharacterisation, which only becomes overwrought and crosses into a tapestry ofteen despair.

Thalluri intercuts the day's eventswith black-and-white talking head shots of the seven,apparently interviewed at an earlier time, revealing aspect of themselves theyfeel unable to share with their fellow students. It's a risky device but itworks through the realism of the young cast. While the actors have little or noacting experience, Thalluri proves adept at drawingtruthful responses that coalesce to an excellent ensemble performance.

The real standout proves tobe Teresa Palmer in her first full role as Melody. To be seen later this yearin The Grudge 2 - as well as oppositeDaniel Radcliffe in December Boys - she proves adept at presenting a popular young teenwhose secret life of horror is so adeptly shielded from the outside world.

The notable soundtrackcomprises edgy notes from Mark Tschanz and brilliantsound design by Hollywood veteran Leslie Shatz, chasedby the then unknown Australian film-makers until he saw some footage and agreedto sign on.

Production companies
M2 Entertainment
Kojo Pictures

International sales
Arclight Films International

Aust/NZ distribution
Roadshow Films

Executive producers
Kent Smith
Gary Hamilton
Nick Selth
Dean O'Flaherty

Mark Thalluri
Kent Smith
Nick Matthews

Nick Matthews

Mark Thalluri
Dale Roberts
Nick Matthews

Mark Tschanz

Main cast
Teresa Palmer
Frank Sweet
Sam Harris
Charles Baird
Joel Mackenzie
Marni Spillane
Clementine Mellor