This is my third year as a member of the Australian Film Institute, a privilege of sorts that allows me to see all the Australian films released during the past year for free over the span of several weekends. Each of the past two years has delivered its fair share of bottom-of-the-barrel dreck, but each year there is always one title that stands out as truly the worst of the worst. In 2007 it was the dire drug drama West and in 2006 it was the cliche-fest family sport movie Footy Legends. As is par of the course, 2008's festival has given us some doozies in the form of retched comedy The Plex and lead-filled Five Moments of Infidelity, but like the blistering sun there is one title that has shined above all the rest in a truly stunning display of awfulness.
It is my sad duty to report that Paul Cox's Salvation is so very very bad in every conceivable way. Every single frame is rife with problems. So poor was the film that as some of the audience members around me laughed (guffawed even) I felt like I wanted to ask them if they also laugh at Australia's Funniest Home Videos. If you laugh at Salvation then I suppose you'll laugh at anything. Hell, there are even scenes in Salvation where a character watches clips online of Funniest Home Video-style shenanigans! So truly and utterly bad is this movie that I didn't just get up and leave after the 30 minute mark because if I failed to sit through the rest of this nonsense I knew I wouldn't be able to come hope and rip it a new one. You can't say I'm not dedicated, that's for sure.
That this poor, pathetic waste of a movie was directed by Paul Cox, a man who has brought such delights as Innocence and The Diaries of Naslav Njinski, is quite depressing. Sure, his Molokai and Human Touch are infamous in Aussie film circles for being very very bad too, but I'd rather watch the latter film's five minute takes of stalagmites on a cave ceiling on a continuous loop for five hours than I would sit through this garbage in the form of "religious satire". To call it satire, mind you, is perhaps entirely wrong since to form good satire you need to be a little less obvious. And that word - "obvious" - is very much part of why this movie was just so incredibly terrible, but I'll get to that in a moment.
Salvation is about a man whose wife is one of those televangelists you see on late night television. He starts seeing a Russian prostitute with a heart of gold and then that's about it. Not exactly the most enthralling story idea, but it's enough to hang your coat on, yet Cox doesn't just hang a comedic coat onto it. No, he hangs seventeen coats, five hats, a few umbrellas and a poncho. So heavy-handed is the so-called comedy in Salvation that Cox actually resorts to a montage of "hilarious" George W Bush bloopers for absolutely no reason whatsoever. And it just gets worse.
Opening with Woody Allen-liked credits, which include the film's only real funny moment that has to do with Barry Humphries, but I won't ruin it for anybody actually willing to put themselves through the torture of the movie. However, after the first ten minutes I had figured "here we go again" with another dull drama with silly dialogue, seemingly untrained actors and bad pixelated, grainy and fuzzy digital camerawork - you know it when you see it. Yet nothing could have prepared me for the horrors that followed.
I need to take a brief moment to discuss the acting. What acting! I'm not exactly sure what Cox did to these people, but it's like everybody just forgot how to act. Wendy Hughes, Australian acting legend, and so good so recently in The Caterpillar Wish, seems to be giving a parody of a spoof of a performance. Similarly, if I wasn't already aware that Bruce Myles was a professional actor I would dismiss him as a friend that the director gave a break to. Natalia Novikova could well indeed have given a performance on par with Meryl Streep in something before this, but I honestly don't care to check after witnessing the display she puts on here. About as lifeless as a wet paper bag with the personality to match. Kim Gyngell manages to get out unscathed, although he's been doing this same performance for years, most recently on television series such as The Librarians and Very Small Business.
I am not a religious man, and I do enjoy a good laugh at the bible bashing fundamentalists that the film revolves around, but Salvation gives new meaning to the word mean-spirited. It treats all it's characters as puppets put up merely to mock and embarrass. Yes, television evangelicalism is ripe for the picking as an issue for comedy, but this takes it so far beyond the joke that it ceases to be funny and becomes vile and contemptible and just plain sad. As I watched Paul Cox repeat the same jokes over and over again - they're greedy weirdos, basically - I got angry. Comedy, as everyone knows, is subjective, but to subject people to the same joke over 100 minutes is akin it cruel and unusual punishment. And that, my friends, is the bigger sin.
Watching this movie, I felt like I was watching a poor film school production - no offense to anyone in film school - with everyone seemingly still learning how to do things such as "act", "direct", "write" and basically anything associated with making movies. When even one of the actresses in the movie walks out after her brief scene is through, you know you have a problem. I can't even tell you her name since the movie doesn't have an IMDb page. Perhaps if it never gets one we can all pretend as if it never existed in the first place. Please. F