This oddball comedy overflowing with small town characters kicks off a short burst of commercial-leaning local cinema, with Lowdown Dirty Criminals and Savage landing in the coming weeks.
David White (who also directed and co-wrote the film) stars as Sean Buttram, an unasssuming young chap from the small New Zealand town of... Thiston. Four years earlier, Sean was the sole survivor of a domestic massacre that killed his parents and two sisters. A trial found him not guilty, but most people think he did it.
That doesn't stop Sean from living his life, though, and we witness him begin a sweet romance with the guileless Casey (Alice May Connolly), despite the objections of her friends and family. Meanwhile, cop-turned-adventure park/petting zoo proprietor Pam (Robyn Malcolm), and her publicity-hungry friend Janice (Rima Te Wiata) team up to try and prove Sean's guilt once and for all.
Liberally slipping in and out of the documentary format, This Town is shot very nicely and offers up plenty of appealing rural community imagery accompanied by some fantastic music. The deadpan character comedy hits more often than it misses, and it remains a sunny, watchable experience for most of its running time.
There is something undeniably head-turning about how the set-up invites parallels to a certain infamous real-life mass murder, although - matters of taste aside - I'm not sure it ultimately benefits from the connection.
A tonal waywardness repeatedly makes itself known, and the film stops dead in its tracks when the sombre reality of its backstory is addressed. Fun when its a comedy, This Town gets a bit wobbly when serious matters arise.
White's directorial voice is strong even if his performance leans a bit one-note. He's wisely surrounded himself with a wide range of Kiwi acting talent (led by Malcolm and Te Wiata), all of whom shine brightly in small moments.
Robyn Malcolm, Rima Te Wiata, David White
M (Offensive language and sexual references)
An aimable small town Kiwi character comedy with a questionably dark undercurrent.