The virtue of restraint distinguishes this small local drama, the feature directing debut of the man who played the titular serial killer in

The Ugly

and the "f***ing boring" (his words) hospital boss Andrew Solomon on

Shortland Street

a decade ago.

The technical accomplishment on show delivers something enthrallingly watchable that goes a long way towards compensating for an ending that is either ill-considered or non-existent.

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Kenae (Hignett-Morgan), Tibs (Harris) and Jesse (Pickery) are three homeless teens on the run on Waiheke who, after implausibly escaping from a bag-snatching, break into a flash but unoccupied house and start to party.

The unexpected arrival of the architect owner Jeremy (Moy) might seem to signal that it's game over. But he's carrying some pretty heavy baggage and the stakes get rather higher rather quickly.

Colin Moy as Jeremy. Photo / Supplied
Colin Moy as Jeremy. Photo / Supplied

The script, which Rotondo wrote, shows meticulous and clever plotting as the balance of power shifts minute-by-minute: he's smart enough to let things unroll slowly helped in good part by his brother Giovanni's excellent score and not to pack it with incident or dialogue

Cinematographer Simon Raby uses fractured compositions with abrupt changes of depth of field and focus to heighten the tension and the jagged rhythms of editor Cushla Dillon's cutting keeps us constantly off balance.

Hignett-Morgan (the swaggering junior partner in the gang who lays down weapons to say grace, even when food is a nicked bag of chips) gives us the movie's standout character, delivering an artless and heartbreakingly convincing performance.

But it's hard not to feel, particularly given the trim running time, that it needed another chapter. In the interests of garnering our sympathy for the little thugs, the film gives them a back story, but then abandons them when they have been of service to the needs of the (white, middle-class) adult.

Orphans and Kingdoms

Cast: Colin Moy, Calae Hignett-Morgan, Hanelle Harris, Jesse-James Rehu Pickery
Director: Paolo Rotondo
Running time: 74 mins
Rating: RP16 (violence, offensive language, nudity, drug use & suicide)
Verdict: Technically assured and very watchable.