My first introduction to the oft-referenced Aussie New Wave (along with "The Square" and "The Disappearance of Alice Creed") is David Michod's "Animal Kingdom", a startling debut that not only ranks as the best debut in several years, but very close to the best film I'll probably see this year. From the opening scene where young Jay (James Frecheville) quietly processes the death of his mother from a drug overdose to the operatic score sprayed across grainy, black and white images of a bank robbery, Michod is in firm control. Jay goes to live with his grandmother (Jacki Weaver) and soon becomes mixed up in a violent life of crime headed by his four uncles, each one more depraved and desperate than the next. Michod, who also wrote the convoluted story, uses Jay as our cipher into the story, giving us glimpses of innocence slowly turned inward. Also in the mix is Guy Pearce, a stoic police detective of the Armed Robbery Unit, a specialized force chartered to take down groups such as the Cody family (one of Michod's many western influenced touchstones). Yet "Animal Kingdom" is above all else a drama. There are no long gun battles. The violence (when it does happen) is swift and jarring, punctuated by gun shots that were deafening during my showing. The tension becomes almost unbearable in certain scenes. As the eldest brother, Pope, Ben Mendelsohn is a terrifying screen presence, ultimately someone who wants to "talk out" everyone's problems one second, then running after family like the Terminator the next. Michod also nails the details. How often do we see a film about cops, yet rarely watch them getting ready for work, being handed their service revolver, then having to fire all six chambers into a tube to ensure the gun is safely not loaded? "Animal Kingdom" revels in these details. It's simply a masterpiece.
The Last Exorcism
Daniel Stamm's "The Last Exorcism" builds on the reputation of horror mockumentary (think "The Blair Witch Project") with a tale about a charlatan preacher and his final deed of exorcism in small town Louisiana. I've said it before, but a film such as "The Last Exorcism" is the hardest type of film to write about. It falls right in that 3 star category. While watching it, I was entertained and even creeped out in a few scenes (such as the evil smile given off by the possessed girl just as a door closes), but once it's over, one finds it all a trifle. And really, after "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Exorcist", this whole genre struggles to find anything refreshing.