Downriver | Mardi Gras Film Festival
This year’s Mardi Gras Film Festival commences this Thursday 18th Feb 2016, it is my favourite time of the year for movies as I finally get to see some amazing gay films from all over the world that you would never be able to see otherwise. If you are in Sydney dear peeps, I urge you to check out the Mardi Gras Film Festival Website and grab yourself some tickets, the festival runs from February 18th to March 3rd 2016 and some of the films are already selling out, there are so many amazing movies this year and Salty will be desperately trying to cover as many as we can. The first cab off the rank was EVERLASTING LOVE followed by THE GIRL KING and now I present to you one very intriguing Australian mystery, DOWNRIVER. This movie screens on Saturday Feb 27th at 7pm and Thur Mar 17th at Event Cinemas George St, it is for an 18+ audience only and runs for 101mins – tickets are available HERE.
BY JASON KING
DOWNRIVER is a film I had to see as soon as I read the synopsis and had a squiz at the poster, a brilliant poster it is. The story follows James (Reef Ireland) who has just been released from a juvenile detention centre after allegedly murdering a young boy quite a few years into the past. The victim’s body was never found and upon his parole he is visited by the victim’s mother, a visit that spurs him into action to breach all his parole restrictions solely to locate the body, no matter what the cost.
DOWNRIVER is filled with many twists and turns and more unanswered questions than resolutions, it is a pending disaster mystery that is reminiscent of PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK or JINDABYNE, at times it can be frustrating and occasionally confusing at the tangents the plot seems to take and the assumptions that the audience knew as much as the director, but the one thing about the movie is that it has stayed with me and I keep thinking about it, positively. Now I have seen it I want to see it again on a larger screen so I can see if it was simply me missing some plot clues as the film progressed. If anything I give the film credit for its level of intelligence in not spelling it out but making the audience work for it.
For a while DOWNRIVER seems to bounce between present and past and I was liking this, it reminded me of 12 AND HOLDING, one of my favourite films but the one thing DOWNRIVER didn’t do was give you the resolution in the past. The ending of DOWNRIVER is powerful and more symbolic as is common in most art house films these days but it gave you enough of a resolution to be satisfied.
While James states he murdered the young boy it is never explained and while he is looking for the body you really wonder if he actually did kill the boy but again this has no resolution, whereas Anthony (Tom Green) you loathe from the get go and just assume he is an asshole, black and white, pure and simple, but alas one of the greater parts of DOWNRIVER is its characters and Anthony is easily my favourite character, a child and now young man filled with hatred at the world and no joy that seeks pleasure and minute joy from anything he can, from masturbating from the contact of being choked by James, to literally fucking and using Damien (Charles Grounds) as a way of getting at and closer to James. When the audience discovers the true scope of Anthony’s life and existence the emotions felt towards him will no doubt shift to one of more sorrow and empathy (to a degree) because his life is based on what he has known and his environment, that doesn’t make anything he did or does forgivable but at least you know where his motivations come from, it is for this I love his character, one of greater depth.
The production values for DOWNRIVER are exceptionally high and way above what you would imagine of an independent Australian production. Cinematography from László Baranyai does a great job showcasing the area of Australia the film is set and also the close up and somewhat intimate moments between a lot of the characters, the sound and music overseen by Andrew Kotatko is unnerving and has this bass heavy sense of approaching dread, I was so glad I watched this movie with headphones on as it really allowed me to hear the nuance in the sound.
While the direction and writing from first-time feature director Grant Scicluna is to be praised at times it is a little disjointed with it not explaining certain points. What was the point of James first going to the half-way house or even having a parole officer? It had little to do with anything. Character friendships seemed to evolve way quicker than logical and one scene bugged me; James is telling his mum how great Wayne (her boyfriend) is but in the plot flow of the movie the audience hasn’t even seen them meet. In one of the next scenes James and Wayne hang out and that is the audience’s first time seeing the two together, to which their friendship quickly grows, BUT, these scenes were backwards!!
I thoroughly enjoyed the acting in DOWNRIVER and will be keeping my eyes out for more from the three lead young men. Reef Ireland (awesome name) is great as the brooding lead and Charles Grounds was strong as the quirky gay emo who hates everyone and is discovering his sexuality by sleeping with whoever gives him attention but for me Tom Green stole the show as Anthony, he was so dark and miserable and the self loathing mixed with self pleasuring for the moments of positive feeling he experienced were what stood out for me, I wanted him to be a more positive influence at the end of the film but alas the leopard does not change its spots.
I did love that the movie wasn’t your standard gay coming out, sexual discovery movie but was a murder mystery where the three leads were gay, in fact I started to wonder if any of the teen boys in the town were straight, but one thing is certain, there was a lot of messed up kids in the area.
I would have liked more of the mother, Paige Levy (Kerry Fox) and found her character a little confusing at times but incredibly interesting. How does a mother turn her ten year old child in for possible murder? I also didn’t understand the mother claiming to be the auntie and why did the mother change so much from the slightly pompous jumpy well dressed woman we first met to a completely different woman we see a few scenes later in the caravan park? I literally thought she actually was the auntie until it started making more sense. Wayne was also a great character, played by the more known Robert Taylor (VERTICAL LIMIT, KILLING TIME, WHAT LOLA WANTS), it was good to see James have a positive father figure on the scene and while slightly cliched, I did love his monologue to James on personal worth, it made me tear up because James really needed to hear it.
DOWNRIVER is a strong Australian film in the murder-mystery and gay cinema genres, and one I will be watching again, to make more sense of it and also to appreciate the fine young talent.
Jason King is the owner and editor of Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. He is a movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict. He is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the Australian movie industry for 25yrs. He loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. All the social media links to the right and up will allow you to abuse, troll or stalk him :).
** All images courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the publisher – credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.