Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Dean O’Flaherty
Stars: Sebastian Gregory, Aaron Jeffrey, Peta Wilson, Deborra-Lee Furness, Asher Keddie, Tahyna Tozzi, Erik Thompson, Socrates Otto.
This edgy Australian thriller deals with heavy themes like voyeurism, adolescent sexuality, the loss of innocence, murder, kidnapping, secrets, dysfunctional families, urban legends, and the dark underbelly of suburban life. Elements of David Lynch’s deeply disturbing, unsettling and vastly superior Blue Velvet permeate the film, but there are also touches reminiscent of the suburban malaise American Beauty, and the paranoia of Hitchcock’s Rear Window and Disturbia.
The film is set in Sunshine Hills, a small suburb that is gripped by fear, amid rumours of several teenage girls having been abducted right off the streets. Young Daniel Hobson (Sebastian Gregory) is a shy teenager who lives with his father, the local policeman (Aaron Jeffrey). He has never known his mother, and his relationship with his stepmother (Peta Wilson) is uncomfortable. There are deeply buried secrets that haunt this family. Socially awkward and disconnected, the introverted Daniel safely views most of the world around him through the lens of his camera.
He is easily seduced and manipulated by Suzy (newcomer Tahyna Tozzi), the 17 year old Lolita who lives across the street, and becomes involved in spying on their neighbours. Of particular interest to the pair is the strange derelict house at number 46, at the end of the street. Daniel becomes obsessed with the mysterious woman who peers out the curtains (Asher Keddie), and the mysterious and violent man who also lives there. He is slowly drawn into an increasingly dangerous world.
Beautiful is the debut feature of Dean O’Flaherty, who hails from a long background in film production. O’Flaherty aims to unsettle audiences by bringing a spooky, almost surreal visual style to the material. Paul Mac’s atmospheric music adds to the film’s ambience, while Kent Smith’s cinematography is lush and beautiful. The scene in which the seductive Suzy lazes under a sprinkler is sensationally done, but unfortunately there is little to match it. The film itself is so slowly paced that it lacks any real sense of fear, dread or terror.
Seemingly drawn to edgy roles, rising young star Gregory (from the edgy thriller Acolytes, etc) proves himself an exciting young actor to watch, if he keeps getting juicy roles like this. He delivers a quite stunning performance that captures the core of his character, and brings plenty of angst to his role. Deborra-Lee Furness is lumbered with an ambiguous role as Mrs Thompson, the street gossip whose function seems to be to merely feed the street’s rumour mill and increase the fear and suspicion. Erik Thompson (Packed To The Rafters, etc) is given little to do as her husband. Socrates Otto is quite frightening as the sinister stranger, who may be a serial killer.
While Beautiful goes down some pretty twisted and dark paths and offers an uncomfortably bleak view of contemporary life in the suburbs, it is a film that lacks broad appeal. Beautiful certainly had potential, with a strong cast and the ingredients for an intriguing and provocative thriller, but it is ultimately a major disappointment. The film is let down by an underdeveloped script, unclear motivations, and some weakly drawn characterisation. There are also a number of holes in the plot that are never satisfactorily resolved. This is a failing endemic to a lot of local films that seem to be rushed into production before the script has been redrafted and perfected, and all the flaws worked out.