LOCUSTS. Australia, 2019. Starring Ben Guerens, Jessica McNamee, Andy McPhee, Steve La Marquand, Nathanial Dean, Damian Hill, Malcolm Kennard, Ryan Morgan, Peter Phelps. Directed by Heath Davis. 87 minutes. Rated MA (Coarse language).
At the outset, there is a definition and explanation of locusts, and locust plagues. Locusts, small, menacing, even shape-changing, moving in hordes, descending on target, stripping it bear, almost an annihilation.
Perhaps that is a bit too strong for the drama that follows, but it certainly focuses attention.
What starts as a drama moves into the realm of the thriller as well as a crime story. It is brief, holding the attention, adding some unexpected details and challenges, and audiences thinking of the metaphor of the locusts.
While the film opens in Sydney, familiar scenes, Harbour Bridge, business offices, reminders of tech companies, the mood of the film changes as the central character, Ryan (Ben Geurens), seemingly a successful businessman, travels out to Western New South Wales, to vast desert country (which looks, at times, that it has been attacked and devastated by locusts). We have also been shown at the beginning of the film that this is mining territory, vast quarries.
In fact, filming was done in and around Broken Hill. And, for those who remember significant films, the situations, some outback desperation, some fierce macho attitudes, they will be reminded of Wake in Fright.
In fact, Ryan is going to his father’s funeral, a father he has resented in the past (with some grim flashbacks) and has not seen for many years. He also encounters his brother, Tyson (Nathanial Dean), who has spent time in prison and just survives in this raw atmosphere.
There are some local locusts who want to exploit Ryan, who are resentful of his father’s violence and its effect on them, who expect that Ryan has inherited significant money, pursue him off the road, abduct his brother, holding him to ransom.
On the other hand, another memory of his life in the town is Izzy (Jessica McNamee), helping her mother in a store, working as a lap dancer at night in the local club. We rightly expect that there is a connection between the two from the past – but there are some that we might not have anticipated.
The money? The possibility of a crime? Set-ups, dangers, consequences? While Ryan has been helped by an old family friend, Jake (Andy McPhee), we sometimes are wondering about how supportive he is. His character also introduces some environmental themes, search for oil, water contamination and consequent illness.
Ryan experiences more than he bargained for in his travelling out west for the funeral. We, and he, are not sure what is going back to Sydney for. But, on the evidence of this experience, he is a survivor.
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Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.