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Having just seen Suburban Mayhem at a screening event, and really
enjoyed it, I was a little shocked to read the first two reviews here!
Sure the film doesn't have a major budget, but I thought in general the
acting was very good. Michael Dorman as Rusty and Genevieve Lemon as
"Aunt" Dianne were particularly good, whilst Emily Barclay was always
believable as the thoroughly rotten Katrina.
Katrina is not a character you can empathise with - let alone like, but the movie makes for good car-crash watching. How far will she go to get what she wants? What exactly is the relationship between Kat and Danny? Overall a very dark and comedic movie, with some wicked dialogue. The closing line of the movie was genius, and possibly the best I've seen yet!
Katrina is 19 with a neglected toddler, a lipstick-smeared pout and a bad attitude. Her brother's in jail for murder and her dad's fed up with her bludging off him to finance a life that revolves around the beauty salon, bourbon and blow jobs. Soon she, too, is plotting a murder, which may or may not involve her sweet mechanic boyfriend Rusty or her brother's best mate, Kenny, a dropkick with a sadistic streak. In fact, every man she knows becomes a drooling idiot as soon as she unzips her micro-mini denim skirt. It's a juicy role and Emily Barclay attacks it with relish, making this vile steamroller of a sexpot almost likable. But her brash performance is also the movie's fatal flaw: Hurricane Katrina has it all her own way. Everyone else is too stupid or too nice to stand up to her. We've seen this character before, but Dede Truitt in The Opposite Of Sex and Suzanne Stone in To Die For weren't just bad to the bone, they were better written. Still, like that other wild ride through westie wasteland, Idiot Box, this is a bold, blackly funny picture of the Australia most of us live in, full of noisy energy and visual flair, and for that it deserves a big thumbs-up.
In some respects, this was quite an ambitious film it's dark, smart,
and edgy a little bit in the vein of Brick (not as polished but a
whole lot better). The music and energy are all there, but there seems
to be a few flat spots. It may have benefited from some further editing
to keep the momentum up, even though it's already just under 90 minutes
in length. It seems like the writer and director had some good ideas,
that weren't fully realised.
I think many cinema-goers will find this entertaining, and I certainly recommend it over the bulk of Hollywood releases (not that that's saying much), if that's your taste. For me it seemed laboured and contrived. The performances by the actors were generally (but not universally) OK. Emily Barclay's performance was good, but her character failed to engage somewhat like Kath and Kim on speed. It's not that her character was nasty (David Wenham's monumental performance in The Boys was extremely nasty), but more that it seemed manufactured. Her brattishness becomes grating after a while.
The mid-film interviews reminded me of 2:37. They were better done in this film, but still detract somewhat from the continuity of the film.
The script seemed a bit clunky and self-conscious and just didn't quite work for me. I think the director depended too much on the sound-track and style over substance. A strength of the film is that it took some risks, but they weren't fully realised.
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.
Few films will have you come away feeling as sick as I did from
Suburban Mayhem, a putrid and quite vile film about despicable people
doing despicable things to one another for the sake of daft
entertainment. The film is bad, in that depressing and sickening manner
that certain 'bad' films are. This is no guilty pleasure and this
certainly isn't a study of anything remotely interesting despite the
clear intentions it has. What else can you say about a film that
brutally murders off the one, decent character whom tries to help
others and then resorts to having its lead characters conform to
horrific acts of animal cruelty for good measure?
The film centers on a female youth named Katrina (Barclay) and like the hurricane of her namesake, this little monster whirls bucket loads of chaos as she whirls around the general area causing havoc. Katrina has achieved what little ambition she has very early on in the film: her face on newspapers and her figure on television it's a celebrity status through horrific acts that someone like Charles Manson might know all about but the thing that's more agitating is its obvious reek of Natural Born Killers and how Suburban Mayhem uses the distorted television perspective complete with 'the guilty' speaking into a camera in a mock interview set up isn't that a clicé yet? If not, why not I hate the convention and I hate how it makes people that do it feel clever because it 'breaks the fourth wall' and that's so 'out there' when it comes to mainstream cinema. You're not fooling anyone.
So the film revolves around Katrina and we see her story told to us in flashback format. Now, the term anti-hero is one that springs to mind here but I'm not going to apply it to Katrina because she (as does the film overall) doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the term. An anti-hero is someone who isn't quite on the level of 'good' but knows what they want and we feel a guilty urge to want them to win, even if it clashes with our own moral codes. Here, Katrina has a child, a child that she neglects and ignores in a couple of scenes that are just disturbing in her ruthlessness. Her father, John (Morgan), threatens to have the child taken away unless she sorts out her drug plagued; mischief plagued and crime plagued life. But she cannot have that and enters femme fatale mode to seduce a local nut-case named Kenny (Hayes) into killing her father for her. I don't think anyone in their right minds is going to want Katrina to get away with this.
The film's draw is a question that doubles up as its own hypothesis: "Can you really get away with murder?" thus tempting us to watch to see if someone actually might. Well, unless you're Jack the Ripper in 19th Century, or whenever it was, Britain no, you can't. The question the writers and co. should've asked one another in a filmic sense is: "Should you really be able to get away with murder?" This is what they fail to spot by the time Katrina is just about home free and documenting to us her story from the confines of the future. If the film is so interested in the quirky delivery of the study of achieving celebrity fame through infamy then Natural Born Killers sets the bar and Van Sant's 'To Die For' is sub-Natural Born Killers; and Scott's 'Domino' is sub-To Die For which means this film is sub-Domino, which is really scraping the bottom of the barrel given how much I hated Domino.
So the 'anti-hero' on this occasion is not someone who will force us into questioning our own moral codes as much as she will force us to pray that she dies a slow death not too far into the film's beginning. The drug taking; threatening innocents at home; baby rejecting disaster that is Katrina struts about and moves into seducing Kenny for her own dirty work; we are not amused and we are not enthralled and we cannot believe what we're seeing. These days, the idea of becoming an overnight success for young people is, arguably, at its peak what with the extensive reality TV shows and so forth. I only pray this film be seen by as few as these young people as possible because in the end, the film is a glorification of a young girl who has attained celebrity status through things like pregnancy and getting caught up in a murder plot and what-not. What alarms me is that, here in Britain, the film was classed as a '15' certificate meaning most any teenager can access it.
I felt dirty when I watched Suburban Mayhem. The film is misjudged in its overall delivery and presentation of its ideas; a fun, fast and frenetic series of scenes that revolve around trench-coat wearing hermits being told to kill people on the promise of an easy lay from someone we're supposed to be gunning for. If you want a more mature look at working class life in Australia, as made by the Australians, I recommend 2005's 'Peaches' but Suburban Mayhem is a messy and childish exercise best viewed by as few people as possible.
A darkly comic tale of desperation in the land of discount bourbon and Holden versus Ford. I'm somewhat at a loss to understand the negative reaction in some of the comments posted; understanding the foibles and peculiarities of Australian suburbia is important to seeing the film in its correct context. Emily Barclay sinks her teeth into Katrina with such enthusiasm that as she careens across the landscape with baby in tow over gullible men, naive women, impotent police and her well-meaning father we're tempted more than once to suspend the moral judgement we should be making and simply sit back to enjoy the ride. Questions are asked of the audience as much as of the film's characters, making us uneasy and showing Katrina's real power to manipulate. How much does the need for excitement in our lives stop us from making decisions about what is right or wrong? Is Bailee the get-out-of-jail free card that entitles Katrina to salvation as we find that crime sometimes does pay? A fresh, upfront production that along with recent films like "Kenny" and "Footy Legends" lends confidence to the recovery of the Australian movie industry from the ball and chain of film-school textbook orthodoxy.
I completely agree with you. I saw this film at Canne a few months ago and was very surprised that it made it into the film festival. It was by no means up to the quality of the other films in the festival and there was a great deal of shock after the screening from audience members who were really surprised at the less than average quality of the film. I think the film was written by first time screen-writer Alice bell, and it really shows. The script, direction, and performances are really not up to scratch. I agree and was also surprised that this film got commissioned. I have seen some very good Australian films recently, most notably The Proposition and Look Both Ways and was looking forward to yet another quality Australian product. Unfortunately though, Suburban Mayhem just doesn't cut it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A nineteen year old single mother (Emily Barclay) plots to kill her own father because she's a loser; her hope is that she'll get his house and savings. "Suburban Mayhem" could have been a good slice of exploitation, but director Paul Goldman seems ambivalent about the film's tone. Is he making an art film? Is he making a Corman film? Or a Jack Hill film like "Switchblade Sisters"? Ultimately, the film is unsatisfying because it sits on the fence. We get that our "heroine" is a loser and a grand manipulator, but we don't get much else. The film's third act is missing in action, so when the credits start to roll, I asked myself: "Is that it?" The pacing is swift and the film's look is pleasing, but the musical soundtrack is often overbearing and manages to give its non-stop montages a generic feel. Apparently based on a true story, the film lacks focus and is not as overtly fascinating as it ought to be.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Suburban Mayhem is a raucous, nasty, in-your-face blast of often very
black comedy. It's kind of like the mutant love child of Kath and Kim
coupled with Natural Born Killers. It details the sordid life and times
of a barely-out-of-her-teens sociopath and the trail of havoc she
wreaks across an atypical brick veneer/Neighbors style suburban
It's interesting that there are many negative reactions to the film on IMDb. I suppose that's mostly because the film refuses to apologise for offering up an amoral protagonist, and that's fine by me - whoever said that drama has to be about likable characters anyway? For me, it's enough that I'm interested in them and what they do, and in this instance, watching as these quite horrendous people crash and burn their way heedlessly through their lives held a kind of demented fascination. Is there a moral in all of this 'mayhem'? Perhaps. Perhaps the way Katrina gets her comeuppance in the final scene with her brother in jail is enough - but perhaps also, this film is a perfect one for John Howard's Australia. After all, when we, as a nation, can go out and willingly re-elect a liar and a war criminal, can we honestly say there is any real morality left in our land? Why shouldn't Katrina behave like she does? Hasn't her contemporary culture, for the most part, told her it's OK - don't worry, you can lie, manipulate and even kill - and the only real sin is getting caught? If we are outraged that she gets away with it, why? For me, these are all questions that the film threw up and for that I am thankful, as Australian cinema is usually committed to achieving a kind of frightened mediocrity which you depart from at your peril.
It isn't perfect and here and there the tone falters a bit and the intentional rawness occasionally slips into sloppiness, but for the most part, Suburban Mayhem is a wild, outrageous and startling ride. Recommended.
Emily Barclay wow. What an excellently untouchable and stormy performance of teasing manipulation, in what drives and sets the kinetically sensationalized story of crime, drugs, sex, revenge and murder in motion. This sexily gusty little Australian made feature uses an old formula, but the pictorial direction pumps it up with vigorously hard-hitting energy and flashy techniques smothered by a rollicking rock soundtrack featuring homegrown talent. Fashionably mechanical handling throughout, but effectively unapologetic nonetheless. However director Paul Goldman does a good job etching in an authentic atmosphere of the western suburbs. The story follows that of Katrina Skinner a rebellious 19 year old mum that's into crime, sex, cars and likes to be the 'showpiece' of the town. When her brother is put away for murder, she sets up a plan to hopefully bail him out. However her father (movingly tailored performance by Robert Morgan) is worried, especially about her baby daughter as she goes about leaving others to look after the child (namely her staunch boyfriend played Michael Dorman), as she searches for a recklessly good time. Everyone wants to see her clean up, but she won't have anything to with it and begins to turn on those who she believes are in the way. The plot is done in a fragmented style where in between the story; it would cut to a documentary crew filming people who were somewhat involved with Katrina asking questions about her. It's character-based with its cutting script with it being very vague on motivation, but lingering within is an intense mean-streak and suitably dark and racy comedic elements. Spitefully quirky, but compelling largely due to the unswervingly strong performances.
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