Grief is an all-encompassing entity that consumes your life if left untamed. In Kasimir Burgess’ film Fell, the grief that takes residence in Matt Nable’s Thomas after the accidental death of his daughter Lara (Isabella Garwoli) becomes enough to weigh him down, cementing him to the site of the trauma, dragging him silently away from the life he once knew. Thomas lingers in the region where his daughter died, like a living spectre haunting the world, silently awaiting the reappearance of the man who claimed his daughters life, Luke (Daniel Henshall), after he has spent years in prison for fleeing the scene after claiming her life with a truck. What Thomas intends to do with Luke when returns is gleaned as the slight plot unfurls ever so slowly to its atmospheric conclusion.
Matt Nable’s beleaguered Thomas is so sullen that you could be mistaken for thinking that there is little more to Nable’s acting ability than being able to stare into the middle distance and look sad. But, glimpse a little further beneath the surface, and you can see that Nable is working through varying layers of grief. As Thomas resurfaces under the name Chris, seeking employment in the same logging group that Luke once was employed at, he comes in contact with a troupe of Aussie blokes doing it tough. The supporting cast is made up of a who’s who of great Australian actors – Reef Ireland (Downriver), Damian Hill (West of Sunshine), John Brumpton (Pawno), Daniel P. Jones (Strange Colours), Adele Perovic (Lost Gully Road), and more – all showing why they have left a mark on the Australian film industry in roles that take up mere moments of screen time.
I’m coming to Fell years after its release, and watch it with the sorrowful exploration of masculinity that thrives in Alena Lodkina’s Strange Colours in my mind. The two films complement each other profoundly. Where Fell takes the realm of grief and applies to masculinity, and the way Australia gradually tears down the beauty in the world via logging, Strange Colours takes sorrow and realises how men have found a world of comfort in their solitude. Both show worlds that are increasingly becoming outdated, and explores how they are managing to exist in today’s society.
Natasha Pincus’ believes it is exploring these themes with greater detail than they actually are – which is not to say this is surface level material, it is just that like Matt Nable’s performance, the heart of Fell is beating very deep within its core. It’s an outwardly cold, eagerly distancing film that embodies the spirit of Nable’s Thomas, who creates a home for himself in the middle of the forest in an abandoned hut. Thomas embraces the solitude, and the film does so with him. This makes for a difficult watch at times as you can almost feel the film pushing you away, yearning for you to not engage with its grief for fear that you too will become burdened with sadness. It’s a strange thing to witness a film that utilises deflection of the viewer as a way of portraying the spirit of its main character, but it’s the feeling that permeates from Fell.
Marden Dean’s cinematography captures the meditative atmosphere that Kasimir Burgess is aiming for. Set against the ever dwindling remains of the Australian forest, Fell often feels like it is reaching for relevance via mood and mist, and while it does manage to execute a dour glimpse into the mind of a man wracked by guilt and trauma, it does so with a level of heightened artfulness that can easily be mistaken as pretentiousness. Dean’s cinematography here once again affirms that he is one of the finest cinematographers working in Australia today, especially when viewed alongside the vibrant Boys in the Trees and the sea-focused Breath. Nobody captures the Australian wilderness (both suburban and regional) quite like Marden Dean does. If nothing else, Fell is a visually powerful film.
Fortunately, there is a lot more than just stunning imagery, which is amplified when paired with sound design that captures every crack, groan, and thud, of the giant eucalypts as they fall and are claimed as part of the loggers jobs. The process of evisceration of a tree is clearly documented, from suiting up in the morning, to climbing a giant tree to ascertain what region needs to be felled, to coming home and cleansing the days pains away with a beer. It’s not immediately clear of the thematic relevance of the logging when paired with a narrative that’s focused on grief and revenge, but it sure is impressive to watch.
Fell does tend to stray into the realm of ambiguity a little too often, making it a slight victim of ‘first film syndrome’ where the filmmakers reach further than their talents allow. But, it is an effective film in the moments that matter, with Matt Nable delivering a solid performance that is supported by exceptional technical elements.
Director: Kasimir Burgess
Cast: Matt Nable, Daniel Henshall, John Brumpton
Writer: Natasha Pincus