THE KING IS DEAD! Starring Dan Wylie, Bojana Novakovic, Gary Wadell, Luke Ford, Anthony Hayes, Lani John Tupu, Roman Vaculik. Directed by Rolf de Heer. 102 minutes. Rated MA 15+ (Frequent strong coarse language and violence).
Neighbours have been a significant part of Australian movie and television consciousness, and not just at Ramsay St for so many decades. Neighbours, both cheerful and annoying, have popped up regularly, part of the Australian suburban landscape.
Rolf de Heer, celebrated writer and director for several decades now (Bad Boy Bubby, The Quiet Room, Tracker, Ten Canoes), must have experienced some traumatic neighbours – or has been able to imagine what might happen if you had very loud and violent neighbours. Here they are.
It all opens nice and quietly during the opening credits, the camera tracking along the street in a leafy Adelaide suburb picking out the details of the houses from numbers 35 to 41. One house is now for sale. The agent shows various groups in and out. Next door a chef is cooking plenty of garlic and wafting it over the fence. He wants only garlic-favouring newcomers. And he gets them, Max , a science teacher, and Therese, a tax accountant. They move in, make friends, allow the little girl next door to come in when she wishes. All very nice.
But, on the other side. A yob turns up, radio blaring with a four-letter (and more) rap song which he mimes and tries to memorise. But, he doesn’t live there. It is King who lives next door. He seems ultra-high most of the time and handles drug deals with his friends whom Max and Therese nickname Shrek and Escobar. Therese – at first - thinks they seem ‘interesting’ and can’t believe she is witnessing drug deals. In the meantime, the couple is doing up the house and working hard in the garden.
But… at night. Yells, screams and shouts, loud music, fights. And the police cant’ do anything, 95% of crimes are not solved…, regrets…
So far, so familiar for all of us (with varying degrees of identification with Therese and Max).
It is what happens then that turns the comedy blacker and more serious. Max and Therese think up all kinds of schemes to get the police to intervene, starting with graffiti on the fence proclaiming scum dealers live there. They don’t work.
The last part of the film is dark farce when the couple’s foolproof scheme goes so wrong in the middle of the night. It is a dastardly time for poor old King - whom we have come to like in an odd kind of way. Gary Waddell gives a wonderfully deadpan performance as King, sometimes to laugh at, sometimes to laugh with.
Audiences who have been enjoying the ordinariness and the satire so far may baulk at the torrent of language when a drug gang of Maori migrants turn up and throw their weight around. There are a couple of bashings as well. Of course, it is far-fetched…, isn’t it?
When all returns to calm and the only thing is for Max and Therese to move – they have tried the other suggestion made by police and crims alike to minimal avail: use ear-plugs. The film ends with a pleasantly neat joke.
Rolf de Heer has never been predictable. In fact, he has chronicled a great deal of Australian life, from aboriginal history to contemporary suburbia – this time with a smile, often grim.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out July 12, 2012.