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Del Kathryn Barton,
Why does a 19 year-old girl plot to kill her own father? Katrina Skinner is stuck in suburbia with her toddler daughter and her devoted dad. Her brother Danny is in jail for life for murder. Her mother abandoned her years ago. The neighbors are scared of her. The police can't keep up with her. Nobody can control her but everybody's trying. Her dad won't mind his own business. Katrina misses her brother. She needs money for his appeal. She's bored and she's sick of living with her dad. She's not going to work a day in her life and she knows her dad's not going to help her financially anymore. She's first in line for the family inheritance. All she needs to do now is convince one of her lovers to do the deed and she's never had much trouble getting men to do what she wants. All for the love of her brother. It's John Skinner's funeral, inside the Golden Grove Crematorium. Kat sits on the front pew between her cheeky fiancé Rusty and her toddler daughter Bailee. Her mobile phone ... Written by
Impressive portrait of a sociopath in misleadingly promoted film
Suburban Mayhem is a sturdy-ish drama/black comedy-with-very-little-comedy about the exploits of brash young sociopath and single mum Katrina. She lives in the 'burbs and her beloved brother is in jail for decapitating someone(!), yet Kat blames her dad's fumbly efforts during the court proceedings for her brother's incarceration - and also for the swooping of social services upon her kid - and starts scheming to have dad murdered.
This is a very well performed film, especially by Emily Barclay as Kat, and it's craftily directed for the most part, but unfortunately in the end the parts don't add up to create much overall effect. There's little suspense and very few surprises along the way to embellish the fatalistic plot. The device of framing the story with news interviews from after the events sometimes has the effect of delaying our access to the inner lives of the characters, especially Kat. I had the feeling we were about twenty minutes into the film before we started to experience anything from her point of view.
Perhaps what struck me the most is the gulf between the way the film's being promoted - as a lively, maybe even wacky, black comedy - and what it actually is; a black and steady portrait of a sociopath. Certainly there are funny moments, but this is by no means a funny film. Kat is a hugely impressive creation, completely unyielding in her unreasonableness and constantly manipulating those around her through her dumb psychopathy in such a way that the line between apparent calculation and banal self-centredness is hard to distinguish. Any film which builds itself around such a relentlessly appalling character is a brave film, but this just isn't a very entertaining film overall.
Even if you're as open to being bathed in dysfunction as I am, it's hard to stay interested in the character when Suburban Mayhem's trajectory feels so static, seeming to move towards quietness and bleakness at the end rather than any kind of intensity. As for those who demand likable characters, well, they're all going to recoil from this film anyway. Folks expecting a lot more fun are going to be justifiably disappointed, and I blame the film's advertising for this. Take a look at the poster for starters! Instantly it was one of my favourite film posters of all time when I saw it, but it simply isn't representative of the material.
I'll be interested to see if this film manages to take off, or if word of mouth is going to subdue it. It's been compared (pretty vaguely) to Chopper, and Chopper became a cult hit in spite of its own great bleakness, but I don't think Chopper was ever promoted as being something it wasn't.
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