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DOWNRIVER (Australia 2015) ***
Directed by Grant Scicluna
Starring: Reef Ireland, Kerry Fox, Robert Taylor
Review by Gilbert Seah
Writer/director Grant Scicluna’s moody suspense drama premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival followed by a screening at the Inside Out LGBT Film Festival for its gay content. It is a worthy first effort, though not without flaws rendering Scicluna a new filmmaker to be reckoned with.
The story’s protagonist is teenager James (Reef Ireland). When the film opens, he is just released from juvenile prison. He returns home to mother, Paige (Kerry Fox) hoping to find out the truth about the death of a child. James was sent to prison for it when the death occurred when they were kids. Mother had turned him in. James did not tell the cops about the other kid with him. That kid is now a very nasty grown up, Anthony (Thom Green). The story includes a few other interesting characters, that helps keep the story interesting up to the climax.
Newcomer Reef Ireland plays James, the teen prone to epileptic seizures convincingly. Kerry Fox (SHALLOW GRAVE, AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE) is fine as his mum, and there should more of her in the movies. But Thom Green steals the show as the young and nasty Anthony. Playing a bullying, creepy and plain nasty character, Green also reveals a vulnerable side later on.
The film’s setting is perfect for this kind of plot. The action takes place in the country where a trailer park exists close by. There is a river where the folks go fishing and there are caves and abandoned structures. It is curious why anyone would want to live there unless they have no money and no alternative option. But it is surprising that in such a male chauvinistic environment, almost every young male is gay or has had a gay sexual encounter.
The gay sex scenes are shot mostly in the dark, making the sex appear even more erotic. Cinematographer Laszlo Baranyai does an even better job with the shots in the open. His camera glides across the beautiful murky waters of the river. The country areas outside Melbourne, where the film is shot, never looked more stunning.
But one of the film’s flaws is its muddled narrative. As the film progresses, there are many confusing incidents. Scicluna is found of overlapping dialogue with scenes. One segment has repeated dialogue from the next scene starting before the previous scene goes off. One other scene has Wayne (Robert Taylor) asking James to go fishing and a whole lot of people show up in the boat. James says that he will be gone of 5 minutes and ends up gone forever in an underground structure. As if things cannot get any worse, a lot of the actors mumble their lines, which is hard enough to catch when uttered with an Australian accent.
Despite the film’s flaws, DOWNRIVER is an absorbing film about youth angst. It covers universal issues like redemption, family ties, relationships, friendships and gay sex. It does not skimp on the nastiness which occurs quite a lot in the film.
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