Rating: * * *
Verdict: Low-budget, high tension.
Graduates of local television dramas, soap operas and sitcoms (Shortland Street, Go Girls, The Tribe) combine their talents in a small-scale whodunnit which will win no prizes for originality but shows how smart writing and good acting can compensate for a tiny budget. Gareth Reeves plays a Sydney-based writer called Stanley, a specialist in grisly true-crime yarns, who has developed a sort of writer's block after spending too much time in the imaginative company of his subject, a serial killer called Harry Jenson. His agent (Marshall Napier) suggests a recuperative tramping holiday on this side of the Ditch to clear his head and before we know it a chopper is dropping him and a party of strangers into a bush clearing.
The danger in the backblocks is a cinematic staple of course (think everything from Deliverance to The Blair Witch Project and try not to think of The Bridge to Nowhere) and it's hard to praise the performances from an excellent ensemble without giving too much away.
It's fair to say that not everybody makes it home and fairer still to single out the reliable Cameron Rhodes who gives an excellent reading of some wonderful lines - any writer will cringe at his "what kind of stuff do you write?" conversation with Stanley - and creepily always seems to be more than meets the eye.
There are some irritating details - the improbably small packs, the suspiciously manicured bush - and a twist at the end that seems both unnecessary and implausible. But the young writer-director achieves moments of real tension - the literal revealing of the villain is a scene of some mastery - and it's a more-than-worthwhile local effort that bodes well for its makers' future careers.
Cast: Gareth Reeves, Cameron Rhodes, Renato Batolomei, Ian Mune, Ilona Rodgers, Marshall Napier
Director: James Napier-Roberston
Running time: 106 mins
Rating: R16 (violence and offensive language).