Genre pictures are somewhat of a rarity in Australian cinema. Sure, horror films pop up here and there, but they’re mostly ultra-low budget affairs that are successful overseas. The genre pictures I’m talking about are the monster films – a genuine rarity that pops up every ten years or so to stake its claim in the history of Australian cinema. While Hollywood proliferates our screens with remakes of Godzilla and King Kong, Australian cinema now finally has a chance to throw its hat in the ring with Red Billabong.
Written and directed by first timer, Luke Sparke, Red Billabong focuses on the uber-handsome brothers Nick (Dan Ewing) and Tristan (Tim Pocock) who have to come together to decide the fate of their Grandfather’s property. With a will in hand that dictates that the property needs to go to the local Aboriginal tribe, Tristan is tempted by an offer to sell the property to a developer, Mr Richards (Felix Williamson). As night falls, the sound of trees being uprooted can be heard – something dangerous is out there. Before the brothers can settle on what to do with the property, Tristan’s drug running ‘friend’ BJ (Ben Chisolm) and his cohorts turn up to have a party.
Once the stage is set, Red Billabong embarks on an entertaining and amusing ride through Australian mythology. To spoil what the monster is would ruin an enjoyable surprise, but needless to say, this particular monster has been absent from screens for far too long. Not only is this the first screen outing for this particular creature, it’s also Australia’s first fully CGI creature – and it’s an impressive one at that. The monster design is truly wonderful – it’s only a shame then that due to the small budget we only see the monster for the last third of the film. Although, often less is more, this is certainly a creature that I’d love to see more of on screen.
It’s then a minor disappointment that it takes so long to get to the action. Even though the interactions between BJ and his friends – Rebecca (Jessica Green), Anya (Sophie Don), Jason (James Striation) and Kate (Emily Joy) – are entertaining and add some well received levity, it does feel like we spend about ten to fifteen minutes too long with them before the plot really kicks in to gear. The dialogue is well written and helps give each character depth, assisting in their own minor-plot threads.
Dan Ewing and Tim Pocock are great as the leads, with Jessica Green shining as Rebecca, a character who is not afraid to dish out as much as she takes from the men in her life. Also notable is Gregory Fryer as Mr Garvey, the Aboriginal leader who is awaiting the outcome of the decision regarding the property. Thanks to the well-researched and informed script, Fryer is giving a standout moment during the climax to showcase Aboriginal defensive moves against the monster. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention also another fine actor in the cast – the role of the dog Max who shines in his scenes.
Red Billabong is a thoroughly entertaining film which will hopefully spawn a new series of Australian monster films. The performances are great, and when combined with the monster-filled action of the climax, the film truly shines. Hopefully the much-deserving audience seeks this film out and brings about Red Billabong 2 – I know for sure I’d love to be there opening day to see that.
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