Dir: Paul Goldman. Aus. 2006.89mins.
A sassy but uneven slice of youth-oriented Australiana, SuburbanMayhem is worth seeing chiefly for its memorable main character, sexy,wilful and amoral suburban vamp Katrina, who is brought to vivid life by Kiwiactress Emma Barclay.
But although it is carriedforward by a driving energy as loud as its rock-punk soundtrack, the film, likeKatrina herself, has more attitude than depth. It never really makes up itsmind about genre: only masters like Almodovar can mixblack comedy and serious drama with any degree of success.
Still, attitude sells, andFortissimo should see some sales interest for this feisty title (Contender hastaken it for the UK already): in Australia and New Zealand, distributors Iconcan certainly be upbeat about prospects. The film premiered at Un CertainRegard at Cannes.
Suburban Mayhem was filmed in Newcastle, New South Wales, but the Australian suburb ofGolden Grove could be anywhere from Perth to Cairns where people want to have anice quiet life with a few beers around the barbie.
Nineteen-year-old Katrina isfirst presented via video footage of what appears to be a TV news ordocumentary interview, in the course of which we learn that she has achieved a certain media notoriety as one of the prime suspects inher father's murder.
Leaping back a few months,the film begins to sketch in Katrina's relationships with her over-indulgentfather John (Robert Morgan), her criminally-inclined brother Danny (Laurence Breuls) - to whom she is unhealthily close - and herlong-suffering regular guy Rusty (Michael Dorman). She has a baby (fatherunknown) who she distractedly mothers but mostly leaves with Kenny, and a cockydesire to shock, steal and seduce in the most brazen way possible.
When Kenny is arrested forslicing a guy's head off with a samurai sword in a raid on a grocery store,Katrina is left at home with dad (her smack-addict mother left years before) tobrood on how to save her brother-lover from going down for life. Gradually, asshe spins out of control, so a dastardly plan hatches, in which she decides toinvolve her brother's reclusive, mentally unbalanced friend Kenny (AnthonyHayes).
Video interviews with othercharacters are sprinkled throughout, an over-used gimmick that adds little to ourunderstanding of the characters. Other tricksy formaldevices relate to mobile phones: a cartoon envelope icon wings its way throughthe streets when a message is sent; and as Katrina scrolls down through the menon her phone, some stop to talk to us, video-message style.
Oddly, almost all of theseand other MTV-style visual fireworks are concentrated in the first quarter ofthe film, which is also the part with the most blackly comic tone. Thereafter, Suburban Mayhem yearns to become a moreserious drama that asks the sort of questions Heavenly Creatures dealt in, about how the moral disjointedness ofthe teenage mind can have horrific consequences.
But these ambitions situneasily with the film's flippant, flashy style. In the end, the film is tooseduced by its central character, and not concerned enough with little matterslike story structure and tonal continuity.
The production designconveys the cluttered anonymity of suburban life, which is then given aslightly unsettling, hyper-real quality by cinematographer Robert Humphreys'saturated colours and fast-paced, close-up camerawork. And the hurricane thatis Katrina is given a musical parallel in the driving neo-punk soundtrack byMick Harvey, who co-founded the Bad Seeds with Nick Cave.
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