Verdict: Promising directorial debut but it doesn't get much more depressing than this
Brooding, intense and at times uncomfortable to watch, After the Waterfall is an ambitious and solid debut from New Zealand writer-director Simone Horrocks.
The film is based on English author Stephen Blanchard's novel The Paraffin Child. The book's original British setting is shifted to Auckland's remote and timeless West Coast, in particular Piha, for this story about John Drean (Starr), a forest ranger whose 4-year-old daughter Pearl (Georgia Rose) mysteriously disappears in the bush while in his care.
After the Waterfall isn't so much about Pearl's disappearance, but the profound effect it has on John and his family long afterwards.
Overwhelmed and exhausted, Drean accidently burns down his house, and discovers his wife Ana (Stockwell) is having an affair with his best friend David (Cohen Holloway), a cop working on Pearl's case.
With nothing recognisable left of his life, guilt and grief overwhelm him until an unlikely event brings him back to life.
Starr is a revelation in this film. As clever as he is to play two characters in Outrageous Fortune (Van and Jethro West), here he is not only convincing as a father dealing with the grief and guilt of losing his only child, but he holds this film together.
He is well supported by Peter McCauley as his father, George, but it's largely up to Starr to keep us gripped and he does an admirable job.
Horrocks' approach, nicely complemented by Joel Haines' haunting and memorable soundtrack, is one of quiet anguish rather than loud hysterics. The use of natural light and handheld camera work adds intimacy, drawing you into the characters.
The landscape, often a noted feature in local productions, is beautifully shot with its desolation nicely reflected in the characters' emotions.
There are moments and performances that aren't as convincing as others, and occasionally the script is too sparse and the pace slow. But overall this is a realistic portrayal of grief and human resilience. It is ultimately uplifting, though you've got to steel yourself through plenty of bleak material to get there.
Cast: Antony Starr, Peter McCauley, Sally Stockwell
Director: Simone Horrocks
Running time: 94 mins
Rating: M (Contains Violence, Offensive Language & Drug Use)