Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Rolf de Heer
Stars: Dan Wyllie, Bojana Novakovic, Gary Waddell, Luke Ford, Anthony Hayes, Roman Vaculik, Michaela Cantwell, Lily Adey, Lani John Tupu.
Idiosyncratic AFI award winning writer/director Rolf de Heer is one of our great filmmakers, although he refuses to be pigeonholed or remain in one genre. His films, like Bad Boy Bubby, Ten Canoes, The Tracker, etc, tend to play more for art house audiences rather than the mainstream. His films have all offered a rather unique take on Australian society and our identity.
While his thirteenth feature also delves into some ideals of contemporary Australian society, The King Is Dead is also something of a change of pace for de Heer, who is not renowned for his light comic touch. The King Is Dead is a quirky, unpredictable and edgy black urban comedy set in the leafy streets of an Adelaide suburb.
Mild mannered science teacher Max (Dan Wyllie) and his accountant wife Therese (Bojana Novakovic) buy their dream home, a bungalow in an inner suburb, and move in. On one side is a nice family consisting of Otto (Roman Vaculik), Maria (Michaela Cantwell) and their cute little daughter Mirabelle (Lily Adey). On the other side though are a more interesting set of neighbours, who quickly turn out to be the neighbours from hell.
The King (a perfectly cast Gary Waddell) is a paranoid, spaced out slacker living in a house owned by his sister, who is hospitalised. His sinister friends, nicknamed Shrek and Escobar, deal drugs. Unsavoury characters come and go at will, and loud rap music blares until the wee hours. At first Max and Therese try to make the most of the situation. But then the couple find themselves mysteriously burgled a couple of times, and the police seem powerless to act. Their lawyer advises getting earplugs. Max and Therese take matters into their own hands, devising a desperate scheme to get King and his friends off their street for good. But as usual their careful plans go astray and the film moves into some dark, uncomfortable territory.
Wyllie and Novakovic are very good as the young middle class couple driven to desperate measures. The standout is Waddell (from Pure S, Gettin’ Square, etc), who is perfect as the king, and he brings a wonderfully dissolute and edgy quality to his performance. But his pitiful nature still manages to elicit a measure of sympathy from audiences. Luke Ford and Anthony Hayes are menacing and make a solid impression in smaller roles as the King’s obnoxious colleagues.
In films like Dance Me To My Song, The Quiet Room and Alexandra’s Project, De Heer has managed to suffuse the family home with a sense of oppressive claustrophobia and menace. Here he directs in an unhurried fashion, and the humour is low-key.
De Heer’s regular cinematographer Ian Jones has shot the film nicely using natural light and the widescreen to good effect. He also effectively uses hand held cameras for those scenes set in the King’s ramshackle house to subtly disorient the audience. Beverly Freeman’s set design is also superb, particularly in recreating the interior of the King’s desolate and decrepit house. Graham Tardiff’s jazz influenced score offers a contrast to the loud and abrasive music played incessantly by King’s friends.