Suburban Mayhem (2006)
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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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
The problem with this movie is its lack of purpose of direction. Is this a commentary on the skewed moral compass of these losers who will only find their fifteen minutes of fame by becoming infamous? I'm not sure that the director knew what was happening and just made this flick, hoping that someone would imbue meaning into it.
I don't know what the fuss is all about. There are plenty of films that address immoral characters and their behaviours in a way that makes you think. This film just pushes you over the edge and out the door.
Not worth your time.
Indeed the star's creator, writer Alice Bell, constructed Katrina from numerous court hearings and newspaper tales, all of which could have produced a parody of a contemporary teenager. Thankfully, it did not. Rather, New Zealand actress Emily Barclay brings Katrina vividly to life, as her story unfolds in flashback, punctuated by interviews with those who have crossed her path along the way, from her father's one-time girlfriend, Dianne (Genevieve Lemon), to ex-friend, Lilya (Mia Wasikowska).
It's because Katrina has no redeeming features and no moral boundaries that makes this film such a great watch. She will literally do anything to get what she wants, and we can only watch in amazement as she succeeds! Just like the film, she's brash, cocky, sexy, and very entertaining - a brilliant central character who Emily Barclay plays perfectly. You watch in disbelief as she calmly gets away with everything. I know it doesn't have the highest production values in the world but the way it's shot, through a series of real time interviews and flashbacks, gives the movie an energy that is lacking in so many films today.
There are so many unanswered questions that leave you thinking about the film long after you've seen it - why is Katrina so driven and so unrepentant of her actions? What exactly is the relationship with her brother? etc. Everyone in the film has their opinion and all of them are different. I really enjoyed it and can't wait to see it again.
I was extremely disappointed. I actually found myself bored for the entire length of the film and it only runs for 90mins. I really can't understand how people are saying this is thrilling or a fantastic Austalian film. It is actually very weak, boring with not much mayhem.
I thought Barclay was outstanding but the script and direction was sloppy, the 'documentary' format annoyed me, totally unnecessary.
I can see what was trying to be achieved but the script lacked a real depth and direction and i found the characters to be two dimensional.
I don't know who is at fault here, the direction or the writing, maybe it was both - but somebody missed the mark completely.
Whatever production defects this movie may have, it passed the watch test. It really is hard to take your eyes off Emma Barclay as Katrina. Kat is vulgar, rude, lewd, and driven largely by emotion, yet she radiates sexuality, the kind that a well-brought up male feels guilty about acknowledging. She knows what men want; hence the long string of "admirers". Interestingly she tends to adopt the superior position during sexual congress, no doubt to stay in control, for she is a controlling sort of person.
Her environment is standard suburban wasteland (well-off blue collar boring) but it is not obvious why she and her brother have turned out to be such poisonous personalities. Mum, it seems, was a drug addict banished years ago from the family home, but Dad (Robert Morgan) is a decent caring person, a builder by trade and maybe not very perceptive. Perhaps Dad was too indulgent and a firmer line with the kids might have avoided disaster, though his girlfriend "Auntie" Dianne (Genevieve Lemon) puts it all down to genes Grandma and mother both having been mad.
There is an obvious parallel with "The Boys" of a few years ago, which was no comedy but did explain how a truly monstrous crime originated. This is a lighter piece though what Katrina brings about is still pretty nasty. Justice is not done either, which is disturbing.
Even so, whatever is driving Katrina, Emily Barclay makes her totally believable. The rest of the cast are rather overshadowed, but Steve Bastoni is effective as an intimidated policeman and Michael Dorman convincing as Rusty, a moth to Katrina's candle, or rather blowtorch. We know via the mockumentary sections what is coming up, but we still get a surprise. Katrina does rather better than her real-life counterpart, but someone like her is not likely to enjoy a quiet life, or a very long one either.
From the start, with a cheesy special effect and the killer soundtrack, you have to either accept the proposition put to you, or walk out there and then. I found the loudness of the music almost physical - it was as much a character as Katrina. Mick Harvey has done some wonderful film-score work before, on Australian Rules and Chopper, not to mention his time with Nick Cave and this one adds to his reputation.
Thinking of films in this genre, that I would compare Suburban Mayhem to, I'd have to go with Natural Born Killers as the top of the list. I don't think that this is quite in the same league as a work by Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarantino, but it's still very well done.
I feel for Alice Bell. I know she's been told by a lot of people that this film is brilliant, but honestly, her vision of a cat-out-of-hell Corman-esquire tyrade has been painfully dissolved by Goldman self indulgent directing. Firstly, the talking heads documentary. Why do it unless you had a lot of screen time to fill. We know what's going to happen in the end. It seems to me that if you're going to have a "high-octane thrill ride", shouldn't you at least be living in the now and the present? I mean, isn't all this just past tense. We know she makes it, we know Rusty makes it, we know someone dies. I mean, if you're going to set your structure up in such a house-of-cards way, you may as well just film it as a segment for A Current Affairs afterall.
Structure is the most important in storytelling. All the flashy shots, no matter how elaborate, are meaningless if you can't justify your plot. This seems to be the problem with Australian films of late. Our funding bodies just seem to be giving our tax money to the same old people to create the same old films. Trust me, three years from now, this movie will be on some shelf in a DVD shop with a fifty cent pricetag on it.
Let's making something lasting and resonant. Play with your camera's and digital floating mailbox effects with your own time. Once more, I say, decent idea, sadly subverted, poorly executed.
Alice if you're reading this dear, don't let my words get you down. Please try, try again.
Sometimes I go into a film not wanting to be there or with negative pre-conceptions only to be blown away with it's originality and entertainment values. This was not one of these films.
In an age of free to air TV programming mainly consisting of shows depicting death, killing and women using their sexuality to put men down, Suburban Mayhem has both for $15.
During the Q&A after film writer (Alice Bell) could not answer the question asking her whether she liked her main character or not. Considering the films content I wonder what did her father did to her ?
I cannot believe that the writer and the director would think that this was an interesting time for a movie like this. I cannot see anything new about it.
If you really want to see killing just turn on the TV, people are doing it for real !!!!!
The worst thing about it ? Its not entertaining !!!!!
Save your hard earned money.