Two local films feature an outback filled with beauty… and terror | Film news
The bush, the outbackâ¦ whatever you call it, this vast area of ââAustralia’s interior fascinates and scares us to the same extent, especially if you live in the relative safety of a large city.
Many terrifying movies – from the original Wake up in fear To Wolf creek – effectively harnessed our fears about this country’s extreme weather conditions, potentially deadly wildlife, the vast void, and almost otherworldly terrain. Add 2015 Foreigner, screened on NITV, to this long list.
On the other hand, some films go completely the other way, using the Australian bush as a majestic backdrop that enhances the action on the screen: think Snowy River Man, Dirt music and Dundee Crocodile. This is the case of the endearing family film of 1993 The Silver Brumby, which will soon air on SBS World Movies and NITV.
How filmmakers treat the bush – as friend or foe – depends on the type of story they’re trying to tell. Foreigner is a mysterious drama about teenage Lily Parker (Maddison Brown) and younger brother Tom (Nicholas Hamilton), who go missing one night in the small backcountry town of Nathgari in the height of a scorching summer. A dust storm the next day extinguishes virtually all clues to the children’s plight, leaving their parents, Catherine (Nicole Kidman) and Matthew Parker (Joseph Fiennes), bewildered and struggling to keep their marriage difficult.
Detective David Rae (Hugo Weaving) sets off a search party in a race against time to find Lily and Tom. As he tells Catherine and Matthew, the kids only have a few days before the 40C heat kills them.
At the same time, David feels the warmth of some locals when he starts asking local guys about their possible involvement in the disappearances. He also learns that the Parkers have moved to Nathgari following an incident in another town involving the sexually precocious Lily and one of her teachers.
Kidman is great, as always, at conveying Catherine’s descent from guilt and despair to full-blown mental disintegration, especially after finding out about Lily’s secret diary. Fiennes perfectly captures a raging and helpless father who can only think with his fists as he desperately searches for answers to his children’s whereabouts. But there are no easy answers in Foreigner.
Shot in and around Canowindra in central New South Wales and Broken Hill in the far west of New South Wales, the outback is strikingly beautiful thanks to cinematographer PJ Dillon . Her stunning aerial footage of towering cliffs and rugged plains wouldn’t look out of place in a Tourism Australia commercial – except that they are married to the spooky Keefus Ciancia soundtrack which makes the countryside seem ominous rather than inviting.
Foreigner sometimes reminds Picnic at Hanging Rock with young people moving away and being swallowed up without leaving a trace, as if nature itself were a deadly predator. This point is clarified by a local who tells Catherine: “The children are disappearing hereâ¦ it is the earth.”
The Silver Brumby
contrary to Foreigner, The Silver Brumby presents the bush in a much more favorable light. From its opening sequence set in a spectacular thunderstorm, director John Tatoulis treats the Victorian Highlands, where the film was shot, as a place of visual wonder.
There is no scorching heat and desolate, sunny views here. Instead, the grounds are filled with crystal-clear coves, verdant mountain sides, and forests filled with cuddly kangaroos and wombats. Even the winter scenes, with the landscape buried under a blanket of snow, seem more beautiful than brutal.
Located in the 1950s, The Silver Brumby – based on the beloved book series written by Elyne Mitchell – sees the author (played by Caroline Goodall) talking to her daughter Indi (Amiel Daemion, who rose to greater fame a few years later as a pop star ) of the handsome Thowra, a wild horse whose white coat, silvery mane and tail make him a target for an obsessed breeder called The Man (Russell Crowe). Thowra also faces the threat of a rival stallion, The Brolga, who stole his birthright as King of the Cascade Brumbies.
Crowe agreed to star in the film only if he could do his own horse stunts, which he does with ease. However, the real stars are on all fours. A nationwide search was conducted to find horses that not only looked like the main characters, but could also be trained to do the many stunts required of them. The sequences involving the horses are expertly put together and the animal fighters did an incredible job, especially the vicious battles between The Brolga and Thowra’s father, Yarraman.
The other big star of The Silver Brumby is the highlands, a breathtaking place imbued with almost mystical qualities by Tatoulis. It is quite different Foreigner where the Australian bush is portrayed as a place that will crush your mind and kill you without hesitation.
In a way, both films reflect our ambivalence towards a large part of this nation that many of us only watch from afar on the TV screen.
The Silver Brumby airs at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, October 16 on SBS World Movies, and again at 7:30 p.m. Friday, October 22 on NITV. Foreigner Airs at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, October 21 on NITV.