As a road movie cum thriller Cactus doesn’t really have what it takes. The plot is simple – the film begins with the kidnapping of Eli (David Lyons) by John (Travis McMahon). He’s hustled into a car at gunpoint, the engine starts and the trip meter clicks over to one. What follows is a relatively simple tale as the two make their way along a deserted country highway.
First off, the main characters don’t really work. John is taciturn, focussed on his mission – a difficult character to work with when he’s practically 50 percent of the cast. On the other hand, captive Eli is rather unlikeable from the outset. I can appreciate that writer/director Jasmine Yuen Carrucan is thinking outside the box – once we get to know our characters it seems that we could almost have more sympathy for the kidnapper than his victim, but the differences are too subtle.
Lyons and McMahon perform well, but not memorably. It feels like they needed an edge, something to provoke tension, or at least make us feel unsettled. A film like this needs powerhouse performances, but these two are just bland. As it is, the most interesting characters are the ones on the edge of proceedings – Bryan Brown as copper Rosco, and Shane Jacobson (Kenny himself) as truckie Thommo. But when it comes down to it, they don’t really have much impact on the narrative.
The story itself is nothing to get excited about. It feels like it was an early draft waiting to be fleshed out. There is some (unintentional?) humour in the form of blatant product placement by Holden, but overall there’s a lot of unfulfilled potential.
The film looks and sounds great – Yuen Carrucan is a veteran of the film industry, and obviously knows how to put together a movie, and it’s just such a pity that the screenplay couldn’t compete with that. There’s a touch of magic realism, but not enough. If there had been more interaction with the peripheral characters, or some other kind of external threat, it may have worked, but most importantly the two leads needed to be memorable. The film should have matched the bleak and harsh landscape, but instead mimics its blandness.Rating: