There’s a style of comedy fairly common in Australian culture that really gets my back up, and it’s classist ocker comedy.
You know 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.
It’s the 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.
Last year’s 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.
It starts 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.
Up until 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.
Director: Jesse O’Brien
Cast: Kathryn Wilder, Jordan Waller, Helen Dallimore
Writer: Jesse O’Brien