After first coming to the attention of Australian audiences in the New Zealand flick In My Father’s Den, it’s hard to believe that it’s the same Emily Barclay in Suburban Mayhem. Directed by Paul Goldman (The Night We Called it a Day, Australian Rules), Suburban Mayhem is a gritty and stylish drama set in the less than idyllic suburb of ‘Golden Grove’. 19 year old Katrina (Barclay) has a baby, lives with her dad and is mightily pissed off at… well, a lot of people it seems.
The character of Katrina is certainly memorable. She doesn’t bat an eyelid at the idea of using sex to get what she wants, stealing from her friends or dumping her daughter in the care of a teenager for a couple of days simply so she can have a good time. Emily Barclay makes the role her own, and I’m dying to see what she does next in her career. The supporting cast are top notch also, from Michael Dorman as Katrina’s long suffering boyfriend, to Mia Wasikowska as a young and impressionable teen who does Katrina’s nails.
The film as a whole is stylishly put together, also. A deliberately low-tech and grungy look perfectly suits the suburban setting, full of beefed-up cars and tracksuits.
The film starts with a bang, but unfortunately never really takes us anywhere. It’s as if Suburban Mayhem is stuck in second gear – we know from the start that Katrina’s a badass, and by the end we still know she’s a badass. The film never takes it to the next level, nor are we ever really given a satisfying explanation for her actions. In some ways its flaws are reminiscent of Thank You for Smoking – there’s never really any doubt if the morally dubious main character’s going to lose confidence in themselves. The film also can’t seem to decide from whose perspective the story is being told. There are mockumentary interludes from the main players, however this means that the narrative sections shift from one perspective to another. Perhaps if we had viewed Katrina solely from the outside, it may have made the tale a little more enticing. As it stands we view both her actions and everyone’s reactions, so there’s no decisions for the audience to make.
Suburban Mayhem’s deliriously amoral tone is fantastic, and this is a well made film with brilliant performances. The script itself feels like it is missing something, but I won’t be forgetting Katrina in a hurry, that’s for sure.Rating: