Dir: Anthony Hayes. Aust. 2007. 95 mins
This is the first feature from Aussie production company Roguestar and the company's principals Anthony Hayes and Brendan Cowell are to the fore here - Hayes directing with Cowell taking a small but showy acting credit and both writing. This family reunion saga struggles with issues of credibility and sometimes its dark humour tips dangerously towards melodrama, but overall, Ten Empty is well mounted and energetically acted. Bearing similarities to this year's The Black Balloon, it should draw a following locally when it opens in July on a small art circuit release.
Though often grimly funny, there are some big emotional themes at work - family alienation, madness and religion, for starters. Elliot (Frederiksen) returns to his Adelaide family home after 10 years of prosperous business life in Sydney. It's no surprise he has stayed away since the death of his mother: father Ross (Morrell) is a boorish alcoholic and younger brother Brett (Budge) is dangerously catatonic, living in the spare room among stacked boxes of his dead mother's clothes and family paraphernalia which includes ten unused painter's canvasses.
Dad has married his late wife's younger sister Diane (Bell), and their new baby is named after a local beer. Elliot has returned to be godfather at little Cooper's christening, a family gathering which proves to be as disastrous as everyone expects.
Also on hand are Bobby (Thompson), Ross's drinking mate who runs the bar at the local club; Elliot's former friend Shane (Cowell); and his lusty ex-girlfriend Bern (short for Bernadette), strikingly played by Blazey Best.
It would certainly be advisable to avoid a barbeque, or indeed any function, organised by this lot. Patriarch Ross is mostly drunk and abusive, openly astonished that his visiting son refuses beer in favour of red wine or tap water.
For most of the movie it's a mystery why attractive Diane would want to spend a minute with Ross, let alone marry him and have his baby, or why Elliot doesn't immediately bolt for a return flight. Eventually a twisted family logic is revealed but audiences have to accept some bizarre, overblown behaviour on the way there.
The script is best when dealing in broad suburban Australian argot. 'Goin' on, faggots'' is Shane's cheery greeting to one and all. 'G'day, church,' begins the priest at little Cooper's doomed christening.
Camerawork, mainly interiors, is tight and compelling, while original music from four-piece band Art of Fighting adds sharp immediacy to the story-telling.
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Director of Photography
Art of Fighting