Thursday, 25 August 2016

Down Under

How do you make a comedy about one of the darkest days in Australia’s history? Writer/Diretor Abe Forsythe tries to tackle the challenge with the Cronulla Riots in his latest film Down Under.

It’s the day after the Cronulla riots and the suburb is still on edge. Shit-stick (Alexander England), a stoner who works at Blockbuster, is doing a terrible job teaching his cousin Evan (Chris Bunton) who has down-syndrome, how to drive. Shit-stick’s racist friend Jason (Damon Herriman) arrives, announcing that it’s time to go “beat up some Wogs”, and they’re promptly joined by Ned Kelly enthusiast Ditch (Justin Rosniak). Armed with a World War I rifle and a rusty grenade, they think they’re about to do their country proud.

Over in Lakemba, frustrated Nick (Rahel Romahn) attempts to recruit his intellectual friend Hassim (Lincoln Younes) to join himself, devout Muslim Ibrahim (Michael Denkha) and their rapping mate D-Mac (Fayssal Bazzi) in a raid on the Shire, to teach the ‘White Aussies’ that they’re a force to be reckoned with. Over the course of the day and night, these two car-loads of idiots from both sides of the cultural gap prepare to force their version of the revolution that the riots ignited.

Down Under is absolutely one of those films that will split audiences, just as it has critics. One of this blog’s patron Saints, David Stratton, doesn’t think it’s particularly funny, and sorry David but I have to disagree. Forsythe consistently treads the thin line between satire and derision, which is the formula that makes this film work. This could quite well be one of the most offensive films I’ve seen, channeling a mix of shock comedy, dark humour, sad reality and that good old Australian proverb, the C-Bomb - a combination that not everybody will be able to stomach, especially given the subject matter. There were no walk-outs at my screening - probably because you have to brace yourself for what you’re going into - but a lot of heavy sighs, amongst a barrel-load of laughter

Yes it has the dry-wit and irony that has often defined the Australian sense of humour, but where Down Under draws itself apart from similar satire-pieces like The Castle, or Kenny is its insistence that all the characters - bar perhaps Evan - exist as just different levels of antagonist. Ultimately the film (and its portrayal of racism in Australia) hinges on its ability to scathingly paint these hateful eight as petty, idiotic and juvenile, which it succeeds in doing. It feels a bit like watching the lead-up to a school-yard brawl.

An unexpected pleasure as well is some of the small artistic touches and creative moments that are scattered throughout. Some don’t entirely pay off - such as a run-in with an extremely flamboyant drug dealer that quickly escalates into a weird moment of violently homoerotic tension in a way that’s neither really funny, nor offensive - but others work well to add to the satire, particularly brief montages such as the souped-up, eureka-branded hoon-mobile doing donuts in slow-motion to Kelis’ ‘Milkshake’. Moments like this and the other well integrated pieces of pop-music from the era allow Down Under to paint a pretty accurate picture of Sydney circa-2005. Although I was, quite frankly, disgusted that they chose to use the modern Doritos packaging. Show me where in your artistic licence, good sir, that it gives you permission to distort such a fine and cheesy triangular corn chip brand! *Not a Sponsor*

Other parts of Down Under weren’t so great. The climax, whilst ultimately the direction that the film needed to go, wasn’t particularly well executed - missing an opportunity to challenge the audience's emotions into some sort of much needed catharsis - and the strong anti-racism message that the film works so hard to set-up, starts to get lost in the effort to tie things up for the conclusion

Down Under is a devilishly hilarious, well meaning, often sobering piece of satire that gives a lot of other dark comedies a run for their money. It might not be as hard-hitting as it could have been and will probably go over the heads of the audience it’s really trying to target, but if you appreciate this kind of humour it’s absolutely worth your time.

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