Willa O'Neill, Neill Rea, Taika Cohen, Ashleigh Seagar, Charlie Bleakley, Jon Brazier


Robert Sarkies





Russell Baillie

Here's a question soon to be heard about the place: who's your favourite Scarfie?

Mine's Graham from Gore. So innocent, so naive, so thwarted in his crush on his flatmate Nicole. So handy with electrical bits and pieces.

It's a skill which comes in handy when he and his Dunedin household, all newly arrived at Otago Uni, find the previous tenant of their mansion squat has left something of value behind in the basement. Actually it's something of "street value" and enough of it to make quite a dent in their collective student loans if they flog it off.

They do. Briefly, life is sweet.

That's until one day, just as they're heading off to Carisbrook for the big game, the previous occupant returns to find his crop already harvested and gone to market - for a paltry amount that's already been blown on appliances and doing up the flat's rustbucket vehicles.

He's not happy. Mate, he's spewing. So they lock him in the basement while wondering what to do next. And as they wonder, good ol' Graham starts rigging up some devices to make their unwelcome guest's captive life just that little more uncomfortable.

Scarfies' scenario of innocents bumbling onto a windfall giving them a crash course in Underworld Studies 101 is hardly new, with recent variations on that theme including Shallow Grave and A Simple Plan.


But it brings something fresh and decidedly New Zealand-accented to the premise.

It revels too in its setting, the dank mansion and surrounding city lending an air of Southern Gothic, while a Flying Nun soundtrack contributes to the nervy energy fair crackling off-screen in its latter stages.

And there's more infectious energy coming from the young ensemble. The quintet of Emma (O'Neill), Graham (Bleakley), Alex (Cohen), Nicole (Seagar) all react to their hostage-taking predicament in ways that show their characters aren't just woolly hatted archetypes, and debuting feature director Sarkies gets convincing performances all round.

Its shift from opening fizziness to black comedy exuding menace, paranoia and contemplations of murder makes Scarfies quite a ride - though its occasional detour into slapstick does loosen the tightly wound tension, and makes for a couple of flat patches later in the piece. But that may be also due to so much of the action being necessarily house bound.

Still, it's easily the most outlandishly entertaining New Zealand film for years - and because of that we could be in danger in slightly over-praising it in that star rating.

But it's a movie that makes its audience laugh in recognition while slipping in the questions: So what would you do? Yeah, but what if the rugby was on?