Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Disappearing Thrills

For all the talk about the Australian film industry being in dire straits and its only foreseeable saviour being genre cinema, we seem to be doing a bloody good job of botching it up. Ever since Greg McLean's Wolf Creek debuted at #1 at the box office and became one of the biggest hits of the decade, Australian film commentators have harped on endlessly about how we need to make more horror/thriller titles because, so we're lead to believe, that's what audiences want. Not grungy dramas about drug addicts (well, nobody wants those either). But, yes, despite all this commentary back-and-forth on the topic there has been an almost comical amount of horror flops littering the limited release circuit of Australian cinemas.

The latest to join the list is Christopher Smith's Triangle. Released in October of 2009 in the UK - it was an Australian/UK co-production - it only just received the barest of releases here and has promptly vanished without a trace, barely scraping past $10,000 at the local box office. All of that on the back of actual good reviews, too, which may have given its local distributor faith if it hadn't have already flopped in the UK. Still, it's hard to believe that they couldn't do something to turn its hometown fortunes around.

Good reviews certainly didn't help the incredible Black Water from directors Andrew Traucki and David Nerlich in 2008, nor did they help 2009's Lake Mungo. These two plus Triangle have Rotten Tomatoes scores of 81%, 80% and 91% respectively (no Metacritic scores exist for any, unfortunately) but grossed only $111,000, $90,000 and $10,000 accordingly. I'm not exactly sure what happened that gave distributors and exhibitors such little faith in them. Lake Mungo came before the superficially similar Paranormal Activity, and was a better film, too. Black Water, a hit in the Northern Territory but not even released elsewhere, was unfortunate to come on the heels of under-performing Rogue, Greg McLean's similar big killer crocodile movie that was his follow-up to Wolf Creek. It's not even that they came from tiny distributors and, thus, couldn't afford marketing. Black Water even had a massive crocodile blimp stunt!

Mere weeks after the Triangle debacle comes another off-the-radar horror title somehow hoping to ensnare audiences in its trap. John Jarratt, "Mick Taylor" in Wolf Creek, writes and stars in Savages Crossing, which is working its way around 12 national screens (thankfully, it is screening in Sorrento so let's all breathe a sigh of relief for our coastal buddies). I have not seen the film from director Kevin James Dobson (a man with an eclectic filmography to say the least), but almost everybody who has seems to believe it's one of the worst movies ever made in this country. The trailer, below, backs up this train of thought.

And yes, that is the actual movie poster for Savages Crossing.

It's hard to imagine that this will reverse the fortunes of other films such as Prey and Crush (three and one screen releases respectively, the former of which couldn't even pass $1000 at the box office!). Of course, there is the belief amongst some that all of the "ozploitation" titles - the films from the 1980s that satiated Aussie audiences' need for violence with (mostly) local talent - were big hits, which is just not the case. Brian Trenchard-Smith's Dead-End Drive In, one of the most acclaimed of the genre, played to empty cinemas on opening weekend in 1986.

Upcoming horror/thriller titles include The Reef and Bait 3D, both of which I have discussed before and Uninhabited about a couple on a deserted island that turns out to be anything but (trailer below). Sean Byrne's The Loved Ones is certainly poised to breakout, but things rarely go according to plan in the Australian film industry, whilst Needle (trailer below), Primal and Road Train could have success if handled right, but at least in regards to the first two there it doesn't look likely.

I'm sure a few of the titles up there will go direct-to-DVD just like No Through Road, Storage and Storm Warning. Spare a thought for Jamie Blanks' Long Weekend remake, which hasn't received a release of any kind whatsoever despite starring Jim Caviezel and Claudia Karvan. Or better yet, don't.

Speaking of Karvan, earlier this year we got Daybreakers from the directors of another little seen horror film, Undead. It made a respectable $2.5mil at the local box office on the back of its international campaign (so not so much negative cost, which is what hurts the small local films). It will be interesting to see how the films coming out this year and next can use the upswing of audiences for Australian movies to their advantage or if they will suffer the same fate as the rest. And if they don't will people keep making them? The likes of Tony Ginnane can hardly keep demanding Screen Australia fund them when they prove to be just as financially nonviable as movies like Accidents Happen or Blessed, which was the crux of the argument in the first place. This being an Australian funding body we all know they're rather crank out 17 movies just like Last Ride if they could.

"The Clinic"

I don't have an answer for the problem, I'm merely throwing it out there. I haven't got all the figures on hand, obviously, so I don't know how much (if any) money these independent production companies are making off of DVD sales both here and internationally. DVD sales and rental figures are scarcely made available (or I'm just not looking in the correct places.) Perhaps it's not as dire a situation as I am painting it, but it can hardly be all rose petals and rainbows. It does lead me to question why money (taxpayer or otherwise) isn't being put into the musical genre since that is one genre audiences here obviously love unequivocally. From The Adventures of Priscilla to Bran Nue Dae and Mao's Last Dancer ($7.5mil and $15mil grosses respectively in the past year), there is clearly a bigger demand for them.

Let's see how the rest of 2010 holds up and we'll see where we're at come December. I hope to be able to report better news.

1 comment:

Mickche said...

Interesting piece Glenn. I was trying to get to a screening of Savages Crossing, but the theatre was miles away. Probably glad i'll miss it.
Firstly, i'm very curious about why Bran Nue Dae made so much money at the Box office. Isn't "indigenous musical" offputing to some; yet it make $7.5 million (probably more than Beneath Hill 60 and I love you too combined). Although, i'd be interested to see what they do with A Heartbreak Away.

It is interesting those "horror flops", as to why they are not released wider. Triangle is a decent film with a good performance from Melissa George at the core, and i preferred Lake Mungo to Paranoid Activity, due to the brilliant direction in Lake Mungo. Suspense was created simply by zooming in on a photo or video footage. Crush was dissapointing and Prey, one of the worst movies released in the past few years.
The main problem with alot of australian releases is their release doesn't reflect the target audience. Its probably the same in the eastern states, but in WA, films like The Combination & Cedar Boys were playing at indie theatres and no multiplexes, meaning their overall box office was unsuccessful as they were appealing to the underbelly crwds.

There are alot of ozploitation filns being made, yet few seem to be distributed. I follow the site QuietEarth and i can see when a new trailer hits for an australian oz-ploit type of film, yet, they never get released. The Clinic should hopefully be promoted as starring that bloke from the new twilight and the bloke who was on home and away. I wonder if that would help it getting on more screens.

It is a probelm, and i don't think distributors have the balls to put it out on more screens for the fear of a flop. At least at a few theatres, its "controlled". Again, credit to Bran Nue Dae, for actually putting it out on something like 250 screens (which was more than Up in the Air) and it did well. So, they took a chance and recouped the amount equivalent of their production budget at the Australian box office, which as you are aware, is becoming exceedingly difficult.

A good though, but i do have high hopes for other films released this year, although maybe not box-office wise (The Waiting City, The Tree, Lou, Matching Jack).
I'm also predicting Tomorrow, when the war began to at least make over 10 million.
I also hope they don't stuff up ANimal Kingdom's distribution similarly to Cedar Boys & the combination.