Sean Byrne’s ’09 entry into the horror canon is a nail-biter. Abiding in a quiet rural town, Brent is a teenager at war with himself over a devastating event that he feels his mother blames him for. She, a gaunt wraith, is distressed by Brent’s attempts to escape in a shroud of marijuana smoke and blaring death metal.
Even Brent’s girlfriend hails him as ‘an emotional retard’. Despite all this, Lola, an odd girl from school, seems to think Brent’s a nice bit of crumpet—the dance is approaching, and she doesn’t hesitate in asking him to go with her.
Unfortunately for Brent, he declines. What follows is a macabre onslaught of violence and sadism that sees, among other things, power drills and hypodermic needles of cleaning fluid stuck in places that they really shouldn’t be. Yikes.
This film is an interesting one. It is a visceral examination of crippling teen confusion, yet it's not one-dimensional in this way: it amalgamates the emotional experiences of two different generations and mashes them together in a jarring exploration of human instinct. The vessel through which this exploration occurs is the characters’ responses to trauma.
"It’s gritty, it’s clever, it’s horrifying..."
Sets of mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, and peers are contrasted as elements of Brent’s story affect them to varying degrees. For example, we have a local policeman, awake due to his being on call for news of the missing Brent, who is able to amicably ignore his daughter’s inebriation in light of the perspective afforded to him by the boy’s dire situation. Of course, the man meets an untimely and particularly gruesome demise due to Brent’s disappearance, but the saviour-figure is always cut down just before they can really help out anyway; it’s important to acknowledge the little things.
This is one of the avenues in which the film shines brightest: it is simultaneously a comprehensive homage to the old-school slasher flicks of yore and a piece that feels incredibly refreshing. It’s dark, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it’s campy, but cleverly so. We see injections of the undeniable Australian spirit, which manifest in polarising ways: on one hand we’ve got a suitably determined teen protagonist with a killer instinct for survival, and on the other a psychopathic middle-aged gent brandishing a hammer and declaring that ‘this one’s for the Kingswood!’. It’s somehow comforting to know that the twisted humour of that moment will be lost on American viewers.
Without a doubt, all of the above renders the final product even spookier. Byrne has crafted an intricate web in which typical relations between children and parents are completely subverted and we’re left to wring our hands as chaos ensues. It’s gritty, it’s clever, it’s horrifying, it’s relevant. It’s good.