style of comedy fairly common in Australian culture that really gets my back
up, and it’s classist ocker comedy.
the type: take a small Australian community – generally rural but occasionally
suburban – populate it with a mix of stereotypes, eccentrics, and
grotesqueries, and let our actual characters mock, recoil from, or revile them
with the tacit consensus of the audience. Oh, those wacky country bumpkins,
they don’t know no better.
mockery which is key. There are classic Australian films that come close to
this kind of thing but avoid falling into ugly classism by dint of sheer
affection for their characters – that’d be Rob Sitch’s The Castle (1997) – or savage satirical intent, as in Canadian
director Ted Kotcheff’s cult classic Wake
in Fright (1971). Stephan Elliott’s Welcome
to Woop Woop (1997) almost splits the difference, but ultimately succumbs
to smug superiority. Oh, those wacky country bumpkins.
Two Heads Creek, sad to say, is also
guilty of this, and as a former wacky country bumpkin myself, none of its other
charms were enough to win me back over. It’s a shame, because there’s some real
craft on display here. Director Jesse O’Brien, who gave us Arrowhead (or Alien Arrival
depending on where you are) back in 2016 again shows facility for doing a lot
with a little, and also gets good comic performances out of his cast, the whole
thing building to a beautiful grand guignol sequence of surreal slaughter in
the titular town. But the road there is bumpy.
in Britain, where Polish-descended butcher Norman (Jordan Waller, who also
wrote the script) is dealing with the impending funeral of his mother and the
fairly awful racism thrown his way in this terrible time of Brexit. Uncovering
a family secret sees him decamping to the dying Australian town of Two Heads Creek to solve some dynastic
mysteries, with his wannabe actress sister, Annabelle (Kathryn Wilder), in tow.
Of course, the town has a secret of its own, but its so heavily telegraphed
that waiting for the big reveal is basically wheel-spinning.
You get to spend that time with a quality cast, though – Gary Sweet is a standout as German outback sophisticate Hans, Kerry Armstrong giving good crazy, and the likes of Helen Dallimore, Kevin Harrington, Don Bridges, David Adlam, and Stephen Hunter show up to round out the Creek’s ensemble of eccentrics. The realsation of the town itself is great – a decaying country hamlet with sparsely populated houses clustered around an old school rural pub that functions as the social and political hub. The sense of rot is palpable – you all but smell the sour meat and stale sweat, feel the searing high summer heat. When the horrors come, these tonal choices edge the film more on the direction of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre than Evil Dead 2.
then, though, it’s comedy, and though it attempts some political satire, it’s
not as sharp as it thinks it is. Two
Heads Creek attempts to make some points about racism and nationalism,
white Australian colonialism and Eurocentric cultural leanings, but it never
lands as solidly as it should, though at times it comes close. Partly it’s just
a little on the nose, and partly because having a busload of Asian tourists on
hand as cannon fodder and not doing anything to humanise any of them is simply
undercutting your intent to a terminal degree. Add in the cringey, high-handed
treatment of rural Australians and, well, it’s a no from me.
But, you know, that’s down to my own subjective experiences, and your mileage may vary. A list of my top three bugbears would read 1) climate change denial, 2) fucking anime, and 3) casual classism in the Australian arts, which I’ve written about here, so a film which indulges, wittingly or not, with the third is not gonna engender much sympathy from me. There’s merit to Two Heads Creek, but it’s also #problematic in ways that will probably bypass the majority of its intended audience. If you’re in that category, you’ll probably have a good time. Sadly, I am not.
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