EMU RUNNER – A Cinematic Vignette of a Rural Indigenous Family

Who doesn’t adore the Australian outback? One of the most beautiful and harsh environments on Earth. Director Imogen Thomas takes us back to regional Australia with an intimate look at grief with a family, a young child, and an Emu in the aptly titled, EMU RUNNER.

Kernel Claire reviews this Aussie film out now from the wonderful folks at Umbrella Entertainment. It is out now on limited release, is rated PG and runs for 95mins. To check out where EMU RUNNER is playing head HERE. Enjoy Claire’s review and do yourself and the country a favour and support Aussie cinema.

Emu Runner Rural Australia
Rural Australia



Gem (RHAE-KYE WAITES in her debut performance) and her family live in the rural town of Brewarrina in north-west NSW, near Walgett and Lightning Ridge – about 9 hrs inland from Sydney. Gem’s mother teaches her all about fishing in the local Barwon River and about the omens and lessons that birds can bring. On a routine fishing trip to gather dinner for the family, Gem’s mother collapses unconscious and Gem must run as fast as she can to find help. Her mother’s passing causes Gem to seek out the lessons of the birds and she finds solace from attempting a connection with a wild adolescent emu. She skips school to visit him, steals food to lure him and uses his trust as a source of comfort during this period of change in her life. 

Emu Runner Rhae-Kye Waites and Rodney McHughes
Rhae-Kye Waites and Rodney McHughes

The semi-adopted emu serves as a metaphor for the stories of the family coping with the unexpected change of losing a family member. The rest of the family deal with their feelings of grief and loss in their own tangible and intangible ways. Brother Ekka (RODNEY McHUGHES’ debut performance) seeks comfort from an unsuitable partner, father Jay Jay (WAYNE BLAIR – THE SAPPHIRES, TOP END WEDDING) gets into altercations at the local bar. 

Social worker Heidi (GEORGIA BLIZZARD – HOME AND AWAY, THOR RAGNAROK) is young and inexperienced and notices the troubling pattern of behaviour in the family. Absent mother, young one skipping school, connections to drug dealing in the family. Thinking it best, she steps in to help in the only way she thinks possible – by removing Gem from the situation. After a road closure causes the back roads to be taken for Heidi and Gem to get to her next destination, Gem must once again run for assistance when the car breaks down and Heidi breaks her leg. 

Emu Runner Movie image
Stellar Carter and Rhae-Kye Waites


Set in rural Australia, we’re treated to expansive, romantic, wind-swept wide-angles of the Australian landscape. Incredible blue skies ride high over the orange dust of the central west. Leafy gums rustle at the outskirts of frames and rural towns are centered so perfectly in the shot that they could be a part of a WES ANDERSON (THE LIFE AQUATIC, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL) feature. The cinematography by MICHAEL GIBBS (CANDY, GRIFF THE INVISIBLE) is so captivating that the landscape itself almost features as a character. The overlay on these cinematic sequences are that of a layered and enriched chorus of birdsong. The nostalgia of hearing a willy wagtails call, or a plover’s caw brings an emotional response to the story. Birds are the carriers of messages, and symbols in the family’s folklore, and so the film also uses the birdsong to convey its own story. 

Composers PETER MICHAEL DAVISON ( I’M A CELEBRITY, GET ME OUT OF HERE!, STRIKE) BEN FINK (CANDY, BEACHED AZ) AND GLEN SKUTHORPE (Debut) devised a score that is reminiscent of the greats in the industry. Plinking pianos remind me of THOMAS NEWMAN’s AMERICAN BEAUTY soundtrack. The music choice and the placement of the score is a standout in EMU RUNNER. Along with the sweeping outback landscapes, the music and birdsong become a supporting character to the story. 

Emu Runner movie image
The Main Star


It’s worth noting that for the vast majority of the cast, EMU RUNNER is their debut performance. The supporting actors have some cinematic stripes on their shirts. For example, Stan the local police sergeant is played by ROB CARLTON (ANY QUESTIONS FOR BEN?, ALL SAINTS) and we mentioned Heidi is played by a former HOME AND AWAY ACTOR. But this isn’t their story.

EMU RUNNER stars primary cast members who haven’t got a whole lot of cinematic experience. So the performances are a little …. different … to what you’re used to. Keep an open mind when you watch the film and see the performances as conveying the story. They’re not going to win any Oscars for best performance, but you know what? They’ve been in more film releases than I ever have, so kudos to them all for actually doing it. Most actors would kill for this experience and I think it’s magical to give the opportunity to people who might not have been offered it in the past. And really – who could visually tell a story of rural indigenous Australians more believable than actual rural indigenous Australians? 

Emu Runner Movie image
Emu Runner


EMU RUNNER is a one of those stories where we open the door into the world, watch for a while and then close it when we’re done. It’s not overly saccharine or sappy. It’s just a nostalgic, lyrical view into the realities of rural life. The use of metaphors for the characters grief and processing skills and the supportiveness of the family to each other is the true heart of this film. 

It’s a simple story, so expect it to move slowly. (It’s not a big Hollywood shoot’em up). Although it lags at times, and the performances aren’t to the standard we’re accustomed to, the technical processing of the cinematography, the scripting, and the score more than make up for these few pitfalls. 


Jason King owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. 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 26yrs. 

He believes all it takes to make a good movie is a bloody good story, with a little luck the rest should fall in line. He is getting a little sick of saying “story story story” in his reviews with so much shite releasing in the last decade. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.