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We've been talking about New Zealand movies lately, and I saw one last week that felt like a confident step forward for Kiwi cinema.

It wasn't the greatest movie I've ever seen, or even the greatest New Zealand movie I've ever seen, but it was pretty good and deserves your attention.

Netherwood is a would-be Coen-esque tale that with any luck from this point forward shall no longer be known as That Movie Those Shortland St Actors Made.

Lead actor/producer Owen Black (who played the nefarious Dr Ethan Pierce on our revered local medical drama, Shortland Street) is touring the film on the 'Netherwood Rural Roadshow', hosting screenings at various picture houses around the country (next stop: Taihape, further screening details can be found here).


Black plays Stan, a drifter who wanders into the titular fictional small South Island town and picks up tree-felling work from an old associate of his father's, played by the increasingly ubiquitous craggy-faced character actor Mick Innes (from Super City and the upcoming TV3 show Hounds).

Stan just wants to do his work and move on, but various factors get in his way, not least of which is local Meathead Mex (Nothing Trivial's Will Hall), the son of the town patriarch who does not take a shine to Stan.

I must confess to having the completely wrong idea about Netherwood going in.

I'd heard the words "modern day western" used to describe it more than once, and the title suggested something fantastical ala Jim Henson, but this is more of a simmering drama in the mold of Blood Simple or The Hot Spot.

It only gets about 75 per cent of the way to being a really good film, but it critically succeeds in several areas that Kiwi movies often struggle with.

Black gives a stoic lead performance that stands in marked contrast to the lead characters in many Kiwi films, who can often suffer from a surfeit of passivity. He's an alpha male here, and it helps the film greatly.

One of New Zealand's finest leading ladies, Miriama Smith (who proved somewhat ... er, vocal, at the Auckland screening), plays the love interest, and she too delivers good work.

The stunning North Canterbury vistas take on an ominous quality in the movie, but also provide a level of aesthetic beauty that goes well beyond the film's small budget.

The self-starter aspect to the film and its screening schedule probably endeared the film to me more than if it was a wide release, but I enjoyed the way Netherwood delved into some classically Kiwi tropes - like munters at the pub, rugby culture, extreme bloke-ism and beer.


Netherwood effectively pushes forward the notion that there are plenty of genre stories simmering under surface of this county.

If it were up to me, New Zealand would make only genre movies for the next 10 years.

No domestic dramas. No low-key character comedies. No navel-gazing. We need to further establish our cinematic identity, and the worst way to do that is to make films about our identity.

Thrillers, horrors and broad comedies are the way to go. Films like Netherwood are a step in the right direction. Check it out when it hits your town.

Do you think we should focus on making certain types of films in this country? Do we have an established cinematic identity? Should there be a moratorium on navel-gazing dramas?

- Herald online