Ryan Corr stars in Below as a careless, scummy cyber-bunk named Dougie. He can’t seem to really get anything right and he’s also pretty unlucky – as demonstrated by the severe opening scenes of Dougie getting the absolute crap smashed out of him.
It’s an awesome opening scene, and we it tells us who Dougie is exactly. He’s what is said above, and he knows it. He adores it. With each punch comes a smart-ass quip, is a small form of rebellion, but also a glimpse of dignity.
But for all Dougie accepts of himself, there is no acceptance from his mother Cheryl (Alison Whyte) or his stepdad Terry (Anthony LaPaglia) for the fact that he has done nothing with his life. The result of this, is a role as a guard at what seems like an immigrant detention centre, but set in the near future, it’s not like one you’ve seen. It’s not even one that is clearly understood – from what I could tell, the land the centre was on, while in ‘Australia’, was leased by a whole other country.
The detention centre is not a great place. It’s has a third-world feeling, but it does provide one silver lining – prison fights. And being the dark web schemer that he is, Dougie takes full advantage.
Prison Fight films could almost be considered a sub-genre, having been around since at least the eighties, probably earlier. But even with probably dozens of films before it, Below manages to provide a much more entertaining spectacle than most before it.
The fights are so well put together that it’s almost impossible to take your eyes off of the screen. Slow motion, close up, hard hitting punches, kicks, head-butts and stabs. Just like in the opening scenes, it’s completely relentless.
Sadly, the film takes a turn that it really doesn’t need to take. A high-road route to that amounts to nothing except an unsatisfactory end. While scenes of randomly erotic fighting at the detention centre remind us of the absurdity the film utilized so well for two thirds of its running time, Dougie hit’s the track for a redemption road trip.
The new direction isn’t all bad, and it is valid in the context of the events that take place in the film, it’s just that it doesn’t live up to the first two thirds of the film. The sheer awesomeness of the fight scenes which were created at the whim of the crisp direction from Maziar Lahooti coupled with the stunning cinematography of Michael McDermott just weren’t replicated at the end of the film.
Corr excels in the film though, his performance really brings out what Dougie is about. His franticness, his carelessness, his absolute need to make a quick buck. LaPaglia as Terry also elevates the film (when does his presence ever make things worse?), the hardened guard, trying to make Dougie grow the hell up, LaPaglia pulls it off with ease. Perhaps the best performance though is one by Morgana O’Reilly as Michelle. She’s not exactly a ‘love interest’, but she certainly is hilarious.
Below does try to pull off some kind of political theme as well, but it really doesn’t come off. The ‘in the near future’ stance the film takes, really doesn’t aid the film here either. I really wasn’t sure what it was trying to say and was left wondering how is this any different to today’s Australia anyway? We have borders, we have detention center’s …why not just utilize the real world?
At the end of it, Below get’s a pass from me. It started with a bang, didn’t quite end with one, but the total amount of fun I had for the most part kept me watching the whole way through.
Director: Maziar Lahooti
Cast: Ryan Corr, Anthony LaPaglia, Morgana O’Reilly
Writer: Ian Wilding, (Based on a Story by Ian Wilding, Maziar Lahooti, Veronica Gleeson)