Right across Australia, emerging filmmakers are finding their voices through microbudget feature films. I’ve written at length about Lucy Coleman’s masterful weaving of three thousand bucks into the stellar feature, Hot Mess, but that kind of indie drama is almost built to be economical. When it comes to genre-heavy fare, like the thriller Burning Kiss or the horror An Ideal Hostor The Light, the reality is much different, with each dollar being spent needing to look ten times its worth. Proudly asserting itself into the indie film scene is The Xrossing.
A young girl is dead. Her body lays behind the house of moderately reclusive Indigenous man, Bobby (Kelton Pell). His outsider status has him being racially profiled by a trio of young blokes, who are convinced he’s the murderer, and as such, they set about disrupting Bobby’s life over a series of unsettling events. One of the guys is Chris (Luke J. Morgan), a student at TAFE learning about film production, and hoping to find a path away from the crime-adjacent world of the Perth Eastern Hills. Chris is the moral center point of The Xrossing, someone who initially engages in the acts of bullying and vandalism, and yet, through the assistance of fellow student, Abbey (Georgia Eyers), he comes to recognise the cost of his and his friends actions on Bobby.
Leader of the trio is Shane (Jacob O’Neill), an impressionable young guy who looks up to his criminal leader brother Phoenix (Steven J. Mihaljevich) as the beacon to which he should follow. Phoenix is a short-fused, meth dealing crim who slams fists before thinking and has a posse of equally nefarious thugs behind him to cheer him on. Suitable role model, Phoenix is not. It’s Shane’s desires to be like his older brother that causes the majority of the angst directed at Bobby, even though there’s precious little evidence that he’s the killer of the young girl.
Made for $80k over three years, with a lot of sweat and tears, this Perth made socially-conscious thriller is Steven J. Mihaljevich’s first feature, is a little shaggy around the edges, but like all the other microbudget features mentioned, asserts Mihaljevich as a strong creative talent to keep an eye on. As is often the case with microbudget films, Mihaljevich takes control of multiple aspects of The Xrossing, wearing a director, producer, editor, actor, and co-writer (alongside Carl Maiorana) hat throughout the production. Talking to Cinema Australia, Mihaljevich highlighted the desire to tell a story that’s steeped in his personal experiences in a narrative and setting sense. With extensive shots of the Perth skyline and the Metro area, alongside shots of iconic locations like Northbridge TAFE, plus the undercurrent of bikies and gangsters that exist on the fringes of Perth, The Xrossing feels apt with its reflective modernity.
Yet, while The Xrossing is frequently tense and engaging, it does struggle to create an in-depth exploration of the impact of prejudice and social division that thrives within society. What hampers the relatable narrative of tolerance and acceptance is an arms-reach distanced B-plot narrative focused around generic drug dealing criminals. If there’s one aspect of microbudget filmmaking that I’m eager to see modified, it’s the continued interest from young filmmakers into the world of gangsters and crims. The old adage ‘write what you know’ is most applicable to green filmmakers, cutting their teeth on narrative storytelling for the first time, so while I’m sure the machete-wielding illegal exploits of crime figures is entrancing on page, its presence in a grounded film like The Xrossing only hampers the overall plot and themes that the film is trying to touch upon.
Which is no major slight on the film as it does carry some truly impressive elements. Luke J. Morgan continues his impressive work, as first witnessed in the equally micro-budget short film, Residue. The chemistry that Luke. J Morgan shares with Georgia Eyers (who carries the same screen presence as a young Teresa Palmer throughout each of her scenes) is tangible, and highlights the fact that these two actors are names that you’ll grow to become familiar with over time. Their work here hints at grander careers to come.
Equally impressive is Kelton Pell. To fans of The Heights and Three Summers, this is no surprise, as Pell is a seasoned actor who carries an impressive impact on screen, assuring the audience that his place in a story becomes a seal of approval. His Bobby is a conflicted character, one who has his own reasons for staying isolated from society. As we get to know him, we see his tender interactions with his friendly Pink and Grey Galah, and watch him craft guitars out of gardening tools. It’s the scenes between Bobby, Chris, and Abbey, that resonate the strongest in The Xrossing, making me wish that the crime aspect was stripped out completely and that we were given more time with this trio.
It’s also worth highlighting the great score by Desmond W. Richardson and James Leadbitter that is reflective of the sundrenched landscape of Perth and all the harshness that thrives within it. Cinematography by Shane Piggot is also commendable, even though there is an overt over reliance on drone shots.
The Xrossing highlights the ingenuity of indie filmmakers, who excel with their ability to craft compelling narrative arcs with minimal financial backing. Sure, like other indie films, this one is a little bloated, and could do with some editing to tighten the tension and accentuate the hard-hitting narrative beats, but overall, this is an impressive first feature from a filmmaker we’re likely to hear more from in the future.
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