The only things more dangerous than acts of nature are the acts of men.
It’s true; the single-location setting can be a low-budget filmmaker’s best friend. For starters, these types of movies are pretty easy to produce — all one needs is a couple of sets, a handful of actors and maybe a few motley crooks, or one or two firearms. Problem is, the success of these pictures depends heavily on script — coupled with good ol’ fashioned acting and camerawork — seeing as moviemakers have limited resources at their disposal: a few walls, a bunch of performers and their words. (I wrote more about this sub-genre earlier this year in my review for Doug Liman’s The Wall). With that said, I’m happy to report that Cairns writer-director-editor-producer Travis Bain, Throwback (2014), has nailed the formula with his latest feature, Landfall, a (mostly) one-location thriller that centers on a young couple trapped inside their beach house during a severe tropical cyclone.
Set in Cairns, Australia, Landfall opens with our twentysomething protagonists, Dylan (Rob Stanfield) and Maisie (Kristen Condon), who are standing at the back door of their beachfront home, watching as a furious storm approaches from the ocean. Before the pair can evacuate, an ambulance pulls into their street and parks in an unoccupied lot beside the property. Three men (wearing paramedic uniforms) stumble out of the van and make their way to the couple’s door. The seedy visitors introduce themselves as Beatles members Paul (Daryl Heath), George (Andy Bramble) and Ringo (Bailey Stevenson), the imposing leader, Paul, claiming that they’re looking for someone who goes by the name of Gordo. Dylan, however, senses that something ain’t right; Ringo’s badly injured (with a gunshot wound in the leg) while Paul is carrying an icebox that’s been bound tightly with biohazard tape.
Although Dylan tries to turn the paramedics away — by insisting that they have the wrong address — the men force their way inside, Paul pulling a gun out on Dylan and Maisie, holding them hostage until he can figure out what’s happened to their contact. At this point, questions begin to emerge, predominantly about the whereabouts of the elusive Gordo and the mysterious contents of the icebox — just like Brad Pitt’s character from Se7en (1995), I found myself shouting, ‘What’s in the box? What’s in the f#cking box?’ Tension escalates further with the arrival of a no-nonsense detective named Wexler (Vernon Wells), his unexpected presence throwing an extra spanner in the works. As revelations come to light and bodies begin piling, the blizzard worsens, with Dylan and Maisie trying to figure a way out of the hostile situation, the pair coming to the realization that braving the storm might be their best chance of surviving the night.
Key to Landfall’s success is writer-director Bain’s magnetic dialogue, his characters given distinct personalities and some great material to work with. I’ve often argued that too many independent filmmakers think they’re Quentin Tarantino, the cult moviemaker whose witty words and memorable quotes have become a part of the pop culture zeitgeist; problem is, they’re not. Instead of attention-grabbing conversations, a plethora of indie films are weighed down by extended moments of superfluous dialogue, which, more often than not, halts pacing. Now, I’m not saying that Bain is Tarantino, but Landfall features some of the best dialogue driven scenes I’ve seen in low-budget flick — chiefly an amusing tête-à-tête that takes place between Paul and Wexler, which sees the men discuss their favorite movies, Daryl Heath’s antagonist earning a few brownie points for slamming the criminally overrated Shawshank Redemption (1994) — yeah, it’s a good movie, just not the magnum opus several have claimed it to be. Furthermore, Bain’s twisty-turny script moves at a brisk pace and answers every single question it poses.
With that said, there are a few issues when it comes to staging and editing, the major concern revolving around some muddled geography. You see, in the opening act, we witness the crooks park their ‘big white van’ at, what appears to be, the front of the main homestead. Several moments later, the police arrive asking questions about the whereabouts of said van, even though it’s seemingly stationed right under their noses. I understand that, in reality, the vehicle must have been pretty well concealed, even if it’s not evident on screen, which makes the whole sequence feel, I dunno, a little iffy. But look, seeing as I saw a semi-finished cut of the picture, this problem may be resolved via some drone shots, which were yet to be inserted between scenes. On a brighter note, the flick’s VFX are rather impressive, especially for a micro-budget movie, the money shot a real zinger!
Performances are all pretty decent as well, with veteran Vernon Wells, Commando (1985), the clear MVP. Tony Bonner, The Man from Snowy River (1982), and Shawn Brack are good as a father and son, Trev and Kev, who get caught in the crossfire, while a gnarly Andy Bramble, Beneath Hill 60 (2010), sounds like the gruffest ambo worker this side of the equator. Sadly, leads Rob Stanfield, Mondo Yakuza (2016), and Kristen Condon, Under a Kaleidoscope (2014), deliver the weakest work, the pair nowhere near as convincing as their peers. This isn’t a dig, as I firmly believe that Condon, in particular, has healthy career in front of the camera — I, for one, am eager to see her grow in the future.
A taut and tight home invasion thriller, Landfall is one of the year’s best Aussie genre pics. Someone give filmmaker Travis Bain some production money, as I’d love to see him fully realize his next project, a Lovecraftian sci-fi titled Starspawn.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Mr. Movie