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So, turns out classism, particularly in the arts, is a major trigger for me.
I mean, sure, it’s always been a bugbear. I’m constantly amazed at the assumption of relative wealth, privilege and access in the film industry in particular, but related spheres as well, but you just kind of learn to keep your mouth shut to get along – no, I didn’t go to that school, no I’ve never been to that city or that festival, no I’m not popping down to Dark Mofo any time soon, thank you very much.
That’s just passive, background class bullshit and you get it everywhere. Active classism, however, makes me see red. Some poor bastard recently made a couple of cracks about not seeing movies on discount days or in “bogan” suburbs because of the people in the audience, and I really tore him a new one. Went well over the top. That was uncalled for, but here’s the thing: inherent in his statement were a couple of assumptions. One, that people too poor to pay full price or who live in or go to less wealthy areas are inherently “lesser” – they can’t comport themselves appropriately in a theatre. Two, that his audience, which were film industry people, would agree with him.
Well, screw that. That is classism. That is gatekeeping. That is putting a ring around a group of people and saying they are less because of factors and circumstances beyond their control. Nobody chooses to be born poor, or working class, and nobody should have to be ashamed of it, or have to keep their mouth shut when people with wealth, with privilege, with educational and professional opportunities, make jokes like this.
It drives me insane because people who are normally on the right side of a whole swathe of other identity or social issues are absolutely blind to class, and their intersectionality collapses in a heap when confronted with class- and wealth-related issues. “It’s not my job to educate you” has become the battle cry when stoushing online with people with limited educational opportunities (mere access to the internet is not the panacea we would like it to be – people need to be taught how to learn). We joke about the dumb rednecks voting against their own interests, failing to see the inherent tragedy in a whole group of educationally, economically, and socially disadvantaged people being encouraged to do so by vested corporate and government interests. Believe me, these people will be at the absolute coalface of the seemingly inevitable environmental and economic collapse that is looming in the near future. They will bear the brunt. They should, and in a better world, would be allies, but increasingly the left refuses to engage with the working class (and this is key) in terms they can understand. We shout at them in a language they don’t know and call them dumb for not understanding. Stupid bloody bogans, hey? Goddamn Queensland rednecks.
But let’s circle back to the arts. Those limited educational and economic opportunities mean that working class voices are now largely and increasingly absent from the arts, simply because the means to enter the sector and have a viable career is beyond so many. We had a brief, shining moment in the ’70s and ’80s when arts education, like all education, was attainable for the working class (God bless you, Gough). That is now no longer the case, and the increasing trend to view tertiary education as an industry focused purely on career outcomes means that arts degrees are viewed with distrust, and the working class are encouraged to deride them. You not only have to struggle to break out of cultural norms (What are you going to fall back on? What are you going to do for a crust?), but then clear the economic hurdle of actually paying for your education (and thank you so much for lowering the HECS repayment threshold, you monstrous motherhumpers).
And so the arts once again becomes the playground of dilettantes. People who can afford to go to arts school, film school, WAAPA, NIDA, and so on and so on. Class lines get reinforced, old boys’ networks are the ratlines that lead to government funding for projects of size and ambition, and once again the voices being heard and the stories being told are of a particular type, stripe, and wealth. We see it in recent Sydney Film Festival opener Palm Beach, a very pleasant film about rich people with no significant problems, and we see it in the well-meaning but frankly patronising The Heights, which sets its drama in a social housing project and then populates it with characters who are upwardly mobile and equipped to move beyond the setting – the constraints that keep people in such places simply don’t exist for them. It’s almost laughable. I swear to you, sometimes it’s like They Live – I jab my elbow into people next to me, saying “Doesn’t that look weird to you?” and they just shrug. Class-based cultural ghettoisation is invisible to them. But I promise, if you’re attuned to it, it’s impossible to ignore, and it is endemic.
Well, I am done with it. I am so goddamn tired of classism being the last allowable prejudice in the broad left. If your intersectionality doesn’t include class consciousness, it is useless – not just to me, personally, because of my background and my struggle, but functionally and broadly useless as a political ideology and strategy, because you see the people you actually need to achieve your aims on the national stage as beneath contempt. We have seen this in the last federal election – what should have been a slam dunk for Labor became a savage rout largely because the language of the discourse alienated Labor’s traditional voting base. And the contempt you feel for those who bought the big lies of the LNP and Clive Palmer – and I know you feel it – is reinforced because the opportunity for people from rural, impoverished, or working class backgrounds to tell their stories is denied them – the cultural mechanism for engendering empathy and understanding is absent. They can’t tell their tales, and you don’t know how to communicate yours to them.
The bitter irony is that the people accusing the working class of voting against their own interests are, by deed if not by ballot, committing the same sin by alienating them – literally doing the one thing that prevents them from achieving meaningful political and social change. You can’t mock and deride people and then act surprised when they’re not your ally. That’s simply preposterous, and it’s amazing to me how many people simply fail to grasp what is, to me, a pretty basic concept.
But, fundamentally, I’m done letting casual classism slide in my own personal sphere. It’s not just offensive to me, it’s killing us – if you’re of a mind to, you can draw a straight line from the fragmentation of the left to our inability to meaningfully combat… (waves hand vaguely at the whole world). We need to stop. We need to check ourselves, and we need to check our friends. I honestly expect this rant, which hilariously started as a brief Facebook post before it all came pouring out, to fall on deaf ears, because trying to get people to question their own assumptions and prejudices always does. I’ve waved this flag before, and it’s disheartening to see who refuses to salute it. But screw it; if there’s no war but class war, you need to have a good, long think about which side you’re actually on, because from here in the trenches your uniform is suspect.
Based on the 2015 novel by Nicholas Searle, The Good Liar reunites Gods and Monsters and Mr. Holmes director Bill Condon with acting legend Sir Ian McKellen for the fourth time – and the equally legendary Helen Mirren is along for the ride.
In what promises to be a twisty thriller, McKellen stars as Roy Courtnay, an accomplished con artist who sets his sights on wealthy widow Betty McLeish (Mirren, of course). However, things are not as they seem, and soon reversal piles upon reversal and secret after secret is revealed, as is the nature of such things.
Original author Searle knows of which he speaks when it comes to subterfuge – like John le Carré before him, he’s a spook-turned wordsmith whose work has been compared to not only the elder statesman of British espionage thrillers, but also Ruth Rendell and Patricia Highsmith – fine company indeed.
But it’s director Condon to whom we speak now, and he seems to positively relish bringing a literary thriller to the screen with no small amount of Hitchcockian flair.
What shape was the project in when you came on board, and what attracted you to it?
Well, there was no shape, there was just a novel, and I got involved with it when it was in that form. Then we went to Jeffrey Hatcher, who had written Mr. Holmes, and he started writing the script.
What attracted me to it was reading the novel and I came across one scene about two thirds of the way through that had such a wonderful twist in it, and I thought, “My God, I’d like to make this and see this with an audience: this moment, this scene.” And it has indeed been fun – we’ve done a few previews and seen that scene work in the way that I hoped it would when I read it.
But, in general, I was drawn to two incredibly juicy parts, a movie that has a real kick and surprising relevance – which is hard to talk about until you see it – and something in the Hitchcock mold. I’ve tried various classic Hollywood genres, and this is a flat-out thriller/mystery with some humour, which is something I hadn’t tried and was eager to do.
What kind of Hitchcock character is McKellen playing? Is he a Cary Grant type?
Not quite. Think more Robert Walker in Strangers on a Train, you know? It’s the darker Hitchcock – it’s Frenzy. It’s Joseph Cotton in Shadow of a Doubt with Teresa Wright. It’s that Hitchcock villain that you start to weirdly root for. You both want him to be exposed and you don’t at the same time.
Hitchcock said that, by seeing a crime being planned and committed, no matter how heinous, on some level the audience wants the criminal to get away with it.
Absolutely, yes, and this movie very much plays into that. It’s more along those lines.
Did you always have McKellen in mind for the role?
I did, I did. It’s my fourth with him, and this is my third in a row with him, after Mr. Holmes and Beauty and the Beast. I’m always looking for an excuse to work with him again and it immediately seemed like a great part for him, partly because he’s obviously one of the great stage actors of his generation – some people say the best Shakespearean actor – but sprinkled throughout his career on stage has been a real gallery of villains, of baddies. Then, of course, he did movies and Gandalf arrives, which probably is closer to representing the real twinkle and charm and sweetness of the real McKellen. If there’s one role people around the world know him for it’s certainly that, and so he hasn’t played the villain in a while, and certainly not in movies, so it was fun to explore that with him. As with anything with him, he just brings great humanity to it, and so you have this real comprehension of what would make somebody behave that way.
It’s difficult these days, I think, to find roles of that quality for actors of that age and caliber.
That’s so true, and that’s what was a real turn-on for me here, too. They’re both really, really crackerjack roles and, my god, these are actors with a lifetime’s worth of experience and wisdom, so letting them play, and then play opposite each other… I’d seen them both in Dance of Death onstage, and I think that would easily be fifteen years earlier, but the fact is that they’d never done a movie together. Mirren again, was a first choice as I read it.
Later on, I got to know the author, a first-time author who’d been in the British Foreign Service, and he admitted that he’d written it with Michael Caine and Judi Dench in mind. He’d started several years ago so, in a way, they’re half a generation older than the leads we wound up with and very different, as you can imagine. But it was so much fun to be a part of that and to watch them go at it.
When you’re dealing with actors of such experience and talent, what do you as a director bring to the process?
Frankly part of it is – and I think this is true with any actor – you want to set up an environment that’s as comfortable as possible in order for them to do their best work.
And in this case where it gets tricky is that they approach things entirely differently. Ian likes a lot of rehearsal, he likes a lot of talk, a lot of examination of the text. She likes a little bit of that and then she doesn’t trust any more; for her the most important thing is what happens naturally on the day, the unexpected thing. She doesn’t like to over-think or over-talk it. So, as a director you’re stuck trying to figure out how to satisfy both, you know?
And there are ways; in my case I just spend a lot more time with Ian talking about everything, and that’s what helps him. In a way that becomes a part of it, just trying to figure out how to serve each one best.
And like any great actors, in my experience, they really want feedback and collaboration. In the case of this script, it’s intricate and it has layer upon layer upon layer. I felt I could most often help them by keeping it all straight for them and reminding them that a certain line might have a different meaning – not that they weren’t aware of that at all, but it was fun to keep reminding them of the larger picture.
You yourself are an experienced screenwriter – was there ever a point where you considered adapting the novel yourself, or did you always have Hatcher in mind?
Always Jeffrey – I thought of that immediately upon reading it. Partly because I was finishing another movie as this was going on, and I just love working with him. He’s a great Anglophile so he’s able to straddle both a visceral, exciting style of screenwriting which also stays true, culturally, to its English roots. It actually had been a while – I’d done writing on Beauty and the Beast but I’ve only just finished an original script. It’s the first time I’ve done that in years because I’ve been so busy making movies, so it’s been fun to get back to it.
Given the current box office dominance of big event pictures, coupled with studio risk-aversion, was it difficult to mount a production of this more modest scale?
I gotta say it’s thanks to one executive at New Line, Andrea Johnston, who loved this book and really promoted it there. We always knew – it was made at a very modest budget for a study film – and you know that’s the trade-off when it’s not an obvious tentpole film. You have to make it more inexpensively. I think people are starting to see that it’s time to have a completely varied slate, and I think we’re seeing that this summer, right? It’s been going on for a few years now that quite a number of these “can’t lose” movies, more than people ever really acknowledge, don’t make it because people aren’t that interested. I’m just sensing there’s maybe a swing back to a whole variety of films that used to be on a studio slate.
You yourself are no stranger to directing tentpole films, such as your Twilight movies and Beauty and the Beast, and you were attached to direct the Bride of Frankenstein remake for Universal under their Dark Universe banner. Is that still going ahead?
It might be but not with me sadly. You know, there’s a few in every career that are the ones that got away, and that was a heartbreaker, because I think we were onto making a movie that would have been pretty remarkable. I understand that people get nervous, because that was one film that would have been expensive.
Finally, what are you hoping audiences take away from The Good Liar?
As I said – and it’s impossible to talk about now because you have to see it, it’s one of the final big twists – there is a real kind of political/social relevance to it at the end of the day. It does answer a big question, or at least speak to a big question, that has been on a lot of people’s minds. Other than that, I just hope they feel like they’ve had the whole meal. One of the things that appealed to me about it even in book form was that you’d be able to make a movie that has thrills and excitement and mystery but also some real emotional stakes, drama, and this extraordinary acting, so it feels like you get the whole thing when you’re watching it. I hope.
The Good Liar hits Australian cinemas on January 23, 2020.
It’s been 40 years since Australian cinema explored the combat soldier’s experience of the Vietnam War. While David Caesar’s Dirty Deeds (2002) featured a brief early interlude in the field with Sam Worthington’s criminal-in-the-making, and Wayne Blair’s The Sapphires (2012) followed an Indigenous girl group on the USO circuit, we have to go back to 1979 and Tom Jeffrey’s The Odd Angry Shot for a cinematic account of diggers in Vietnam. In the interim we had a couple of television exercises in the form of Sword of Honour (1986) and Vietnam (1987), but Australia’s role in what was, for the Anglophone West at least, the defining conflict of the late 20th century has rarely been touched upon in the cinematic space. That’s now changed with the upcoming release of Kriv Stenders’ Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan.
Set in 1966 (August 17 – 19, to be precise), the long-in-gestation film tells the tale of the clash between a small Australian force of volunteers and conscripts and a much larger mixed force for Viet Cong guerillas and People’s Army of Vietnam (or North Vietnamese Army, if you prefer) regulars in the titular rubber plantation. Like Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down (2001), it’s the story of one single military action, and it maps its narrative rhythms fairly accurately onto the known facts of the engagement. Like Alister Grierson’s Kokoda (2006), its something of a “lost patrol” movie: after reconnoitering the plantation looking for enemy artillery positions, Delta Company under the command of Major Harry Smith (Travis Fimmel) is cut off from their home base at Nui Dat, and must hold off wave after wave of assaults while hoping for rescue or reinforcement. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Brigadier Jackson (Richard Roxburgh) and his staff wrestle with whether to send relief, which would leave their base open to attack, or write off the encircled men as acceptable casualties.
Danger Close is not the best Australian war movie ever made, but that’s because we live in a universe where Peter Weir’s Gallipoli (1981) and Bruce Beresford’s Breaker Morant (1980) happened (it’s Morant, by the way). It certainly deserves to be in the conversation, though, and it’s not overstating the case to call it the best depiction of realistic combat yet seen in Australian cinema. Stenders, working from a script by Stuart Beattie (Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Collateral), takes pains to keep the audience cognisant of everything that’s happening on a strategic, tactical, and personal level. We spend most of our time in the mud and the trees with the troops on the ground, but cutting back to base and the larger decisions being made and forces in play ensures we see how it all connects together, the macro to the micro, everything in constant motion and perpetual crisis. It’s propulsive, technically superb stuff, a series of contained but interlinked sequences of rising action and catharsis that never lets up.
War movies by and large focus almost exclusively on infantry actions – all the better to show personal drama and heroism – but Danger Close goes out of its way to show the importance of both artillery – every successful barrage by a nearby New Zealand battery is a rousing moment – and communications. Radio contact is shown to be absolutely essential, with moments of severed communications – a bullet-riddled field pack at one point, a fried base station at another – being moments of high tension. It’s a frequently overlooked element, and it’s impressive to see how its importance here is highlighted and dramatized.
That’s veering close to armchair military history, though (and yeah, I’ll cop to being prone to that) – what’s going to sell Danger Close to audiences is the personal drama. Beattie’s script is robust and functional without being, on the personal level, exceptional. He’s constrained by both the known facts of the events and the reverence (deserved or otherwise – here’s not the place) to the Aussie digger that almost invariably accompanies these films. Being event-based rather than arc-based, character journeys are necessarily shorthanded and compact. The most visible human relationship is between Fimmel’s Major Smith, a professional, commando-trained soldier who resents having to lead a unit of reluctant draftees, and Daniel Webber’s Private Paul Large, a skiver who steps up when the lead starts flying. Action is character, as the saying goes, and given that battle is, by definition, pretty much all action, we get characters defined very much by what they do; complexity is a necessary sacrifice.
It helps, then, that Stenders has assembled an incredible cast; indeed, Danger Close is certainly a candidate for the best (majority male, but what are you gonna do?) Australian cast in recent memory, with Luke Bracey, Nicholas Hamilton, Mojean Aria, Travis Jeffery, Aaron Glenane, Anthony Hayes, Aaron McGrath, Myles Pollard, and more filling out the ensemble. There are moments when the language of the period and scenario feels a little uncomfortable in the mouths of some of these young actors, (and I’m pretty sure the use of the phrase “We’re not here to fuck spiders” is an anachronism), but those moments are fleeting – this is a rock solid cast leaving it all out on the field.
Like the aforementioned Black Hawk Down, Danger Close is told squarely from the point of view of only one set of belligerents, which has been a sticking point for some commentators, but Danger Close’s politics are largely subtextual and metatextual; Australia’s resistance to conscription is fairly well dramatised, and the anti-war sentiment we think of when reflecting on the Vietnam War really crested later in the decade (although the American movement was certainly ramping up in ’66), so its relatively muted presence here is understandable.
What really impresses, though, is how Australian Danger Close feels. It’s not just the presence of L1A1 SLR rifles, Owen submachineguns and various other production design elements; the film is culturally Australian. A concert for the troops that features as a parallel narrative stream involves Little Pattie (Emmy Dougal) and Col Joye (Geoffrey Winter), and you don’t get much more “early ‘60s Australian” as that. For all that we venerate the Anzacs, our deeply ingrained cultural cringe as Australian media producers and consumers means that we tend to keep our military history at arm’s length to some degree, honouring it in the abstract while downplaying the specific. It’s our way, and it’s regrettable; on some level we don’t like ourselves and our national character, and we don’t want to do the introspection necessary to correct that. Danger Close doesn’t begin to do the hard yards in that respect, but it also doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to representing, if not interrogating, the Australian Vietnam War – this is, by intent and by impact, our Vietnam movie. It’s what we’ve got.
Which means, of course, that it closes with “I Was Only 19 (A Walk in the Light Green)”, and whether that’s a solid choice or a bridge too far is in the eye of the beholder; it was, let’s agree, inevitable, though, and I think that musical choice underlines the film’s marked attempt not to fall to blind patriotism. Not does it tend towards self-flagellation over what was, as history ably demonstrates, an unjust war. Danger Close’s boots-on-the-ground approach is intentional, and its focus is deliberate. It’s no small achievement, juggling historical, dramatic, and political demands with considerable dexterity, and the result is a film whose place in the Australian pantheon is assured.
Director: Kriv Stenders
Cast: Travis Fimmel, Luke Bracey, Richard Roxburgh
Writers: Stuart Beattie, James Nicholas, Karel Segers, Paul Sullivan, Jack Brislee
Originally the plan was to write about Don’s Party before the federal election on the weekend. That didn’t pan out. Perhaps subconsciously I knew that writing about it after the numbers were in would be more piquant, and whatever instinct that was in play turned out to be right. After all, the film is about what happens at an election night party when a widely expected Labor victory turns into a brutal rout in favour of the LNP, and that is certainly what happened on Saturday night. And so here we are in 2019, looking back at the events of 1969 through the lens of a film released in 1976. Are there parallels? Of course. Do they mean anything? Well, who can say?
Directed by Bruce Beresford (Breaker Morant, Ladies in Black) and adapted by David Williamson from his own 1971 stage play, Don’s Party is a simple set up: on election night, schoolteacher Don Henderson (John Hargreaves) and his wife, Kath (Jeanie Drynan) have a few friends around to their suburban Melbourne home (it was actually filmed in Sydney’s North Shore) to celebrate what is assumed to be an Labor lock. As history and the film shows, this was not the case; John Gorton’s Libs thrashed Gough Whitlam’s Labor Party, retaining what was then a 20-year grasp on power. This turn of events, unsurprisingly, does not go down well with the film’s motley collection of Labor pseudo-intellectuals, and as the booze flows freely they soon fall to vicious infighting – and gosh, as of the time of writing, that barely even counts as a metaphor.
What’s striking about Don’s Party is the merciless yet affectionate attitude it holds towards its cast of characters, all of whom are horribly compromised and fundamentally broken people who nonetheless see themselves as part of a kind of intellectual, cultural, and moral elite. Ockerish Don and exhausted, sniping Kath aside, there’s recently divorced, lecherous Mack (Graham Kennedy), married, lecherous Mal (Ray Barrett), and single, lecherous Cooley (Harold Hopkins, and are we seeing a pattern here?).
The women in their lives all indulge their menfolk with varying degrees of exasperation and disdain; Cooley’s 19 year old girlfriend, Susan (Clare Binney), is still largely bright-eyed and excited by the louche posturing of her lover, but Mal’s wife Jenny (Pat Bishop) is bitterly disappointed with her life, as is Kath, while snobbish artist Kerry (Candy Raymond) clearly sees herself as above the pretentious of these suburban would-be sophisticates.
The misogyny on display is an eye-opener from our current perspective, but Williamson and Beresford frame the casual sexism and seemingly endless sexual propositions as pathetic rather than threatening. Amateur pornographer Mack is a sad piece of work, while Mal, a would-be intellectual, is crashingly unaware of his own limitations – only virile, blunt Cooley, younger than the rest of the crowd, comes across as a sexual threat, and he’s a rather alluring one in light of the spent masculinity of his elders.
Indeed, Cooley, who Don and Mal view as a protégé, is more of an affront than the two Liberal supporters who are thrown into the mix, safari-suited Simon (Graeme Blundell) and his wife, Jodie (Veronica Lang). These two, for all that they are intruding from the other side of the factional line, are fairly harmless. Cooley, on the other hand, is young, strong, aggressive, and clearly bucking against the patronising paternalism of his would-be mentors – he’s the future, and he’s angry and disillusioned with the status quo.
Everyone is, really, even if – hell, especially if – they are core that quo. Don’s Party stares hard into the abyss of Australian progressive politics and doesn’t blink, teasing out all the inconsistencies, contradictions, infidelities, and hollow principles. In 2019, all these lecherous losers and bitter harpies would be #canceled, but Beresford and Williamson are a lot more forgiving. They are, after all, looking at themselves, or at least a close representation of the people they were surrounded with and the milieu in which they lived and worked (you could pull Don’s Party out of suburbia and drop it into the Australian arts scene of the period with very few non-cosmetic changes).
That’s perhaps why it works – if this was a conservative satire of Labor mores, it could be dismissed as one-eyed and needlessly savage. However, the creators are standing in the panopticon with us, and so its much harder to dismiss their observations as lacking in context – there’s an honesty at work here that is both disarming and damning. Don’s Party is difficult viewing at times, but its an absolutely essential piece of Australian cinema.
Director: Bruce Beresford
Cast: John Hargreaves, Jeanie Drynan, Graham Kennedy
Writer: David Williamson
Released in 1989, filmmaker Ann Turner’s debut feature Celia is another entry into the “fantastical coming of age” subgenre, which includes the baroque, playful fantasy of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (1986), the bloody sexuality of Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves (1984), and any number of YA adaptations, successful, or not, that have (briefly) littered our screens over the past almost 20 years (taking the first Harry Potter film’s 2001 release as out ground zero, because why not?).
Celia bears more in common with Labyrinth and …Wolves due to Turner’s canny decision to blur the lines between fantasy and reality, externalising the title character’s confused and deeply symbolic imaginings as quasi-physical threats she must deal with. It’s all a bit Freudian, but Celia thrives because of its specificities. It’s set not only in suburban Melbourne, but in the 1950s, and Turner foregrounds two cultural elements from the period – the anti-Communist Red Scare and the rabbit plague – as not just narrative tools, but as psychological inroads into our protagonist. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
It’s the early 1950s, and nine-year-old schoolgirl Celia (Rebecca Smart) loves two things above all others: her grandmother and her pet rabbit, Murgatroyd. The former is taken from her when she discovers the old lady dead in bed one morning. The latter is under threat as the government institutes a ban on pet rabbits as part of an effort to stamp out the feral rabbit population, which is booming.
These two obvious traumas are paired with murkier troubles: the persecution of a neighbouring family who are suspected of being Communists, and the marital problems plaguing her parents (Mary-Anne Fahey and Nicholas Eadie). Fixating on The Hobyahs, a frightening story read to her class at school, in which an elderly couple are menaced by goblin-like monsters, Celia begins to imagine that the creatures are invading her life: behind every threat to normalcy and stability is a Hobyah in a human mask. And as fairy tales have told us since time immemorial, monsters must be bested with cunning and violence.
There are a few cultural touchstones that orbit around Celia, but none it maps directly onto. Its depiction of pre-helicopter-parenting childhood is absolutely on point, and echoes some of Stephen King’s better works on the subject (there’s even an Apocalyptic Rock Fight, ala IT). At one point Celia begins to incorporate imagery from a movie she’s seen at a Saturday matinee into her own personal cosmology, a riff that predates similar narrative flourishes in Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures (1994) by several years. Weird little paganistic rituals that Celia and her friends enact, plus the red lipstick “warpaint” she dons for the film’s climax, allude to folk horror.
And yet the film remains singular – defiantly its own thing. Over the course of its life Celia has frequently been labeled a horror film – a hangover from its US home video release, when the distributor struggled to find a label for it that might attract audiences. And yes, there are horrific elements – the Hobyahs are realised as grotesque rubber-suit monsters, all spindly, clawed fingers and twisted, oily-black faces, and their intrusions into our protagonist’s mindscape are powerfully unsettling.
But its real horrors are social, political, and personal. What disturbs here is not the thought of painful death or toothsome creatures, but the way powerful cultural forces twist and buffet us in general, and young Celia in particular, and how we go to great lengths to construct meanings and systems of knowledge and belief to make some kind of sense of such processes. Within each adult is the child they once were, after all, and within that child still dwell the monsters that terrorized them. Celia manages to connect up all three, and few films have done so as effectively.
In this way, Turner’s film is more effective that any dozen more conventional genre works. It gets under the skin like a tick, like an infection, like myxomatosis, and lingers there, dully throbbing, driving us to pick at it and ponder, idly but worryingly, who our personal Hobyahs might be, and what rituals might best serve to fend them off.
Director: Ann Turner
Cast: Rebecca Smart, Mary-Anne Fahey, Nicholas Eadie
Writer: Ann Turner