Cactus review

This film review first appeared in The West Australian Newspaper



Rated M

Starring Travis McMahon, David Lyons, Bryan Brown

Directed by Jocelyn Yuen-Carrucan

2.5 stars


The tedium and isolation of driving thousands of kilometres through the Australian outback is hammered home almost a little too effectively in this low budget debut feature from writer-director Jasmine Yuen-Carrucan.

An hour in and two questions spring to mind: are we there yet or are we on the road to nowhere?

Cinematographer Florian Emmerich captures the vastness and desolation of this wide brown land but splendid landscapes do not compensate for the stilted interaction between the lead characters for much of their journey.

The film opens with a violent kidnapping in Sydney.  The city lights quickly fade into the distance as John Kelly (Travis McMahon) takes to the open road in his 1970s Ford Fairmont XA.

Dispensing with set-up, Yuen-Carrucan leaves the audience for much of the film unsure of where John’s going, who his bound and gagged passenger is or his motivation.

What we do glean is that John seems suspicious of Holden drivers and is probably a family man given the stuffed toy on the back seat and other subtle paraphernalia.

During a moment of inattention John veers in front of a police car but it seems it’s his “lucky” day.

Instead of writing John a ticket or worse still, popping the boot, grizzled country cop Rosco lets him off with a warning to not cause trouble on his patch. Rosco is feeling generous because tomorrow he’s giving up cigarettes for his wife’s birthday and will be in one hell of a bad mood.

Screen veteran Bryan Brown, who served as the film’s executive producer, has the small but pivotal role of Rosco.

The drive continues with the kidnap victim, a professional gambler called Eli (David Lyon’s from TV navy drama Sea Patrol) now in the back seat.

Eli has upset a few people with a bogus footy tipping competition but that’s not why he has been kidnapped. As the kilometres tick over, Eli slowly and provocatively chips away at John’s silence.

Eli’s sometimes dangerous line of questioning reveals how much John has been paid for the job. He hits a raw nerve when he asks if the cash-strapped man’s family has any idea that he is out committing such a brutal crime.

The slow-drip of information may have been part of the writer’s plan to build psychological tension but it limits the audience’s ability to bond with captor or victim when it comes to the crunch.

Suspense finally builds in a flurry after a road train driver (Shane Jacobsen) stumbles across Eli, locked in the car with The Wiggles’ Hot Potato on repeat as punishment.

The fateful encounter causes John’s supposedly straight forward plan to rapidly unravel, changing the dynamic between captor and captive.

It is at this point that the road movie/hostage thriller finally gets us to sit up and pay attention by hurling at us the concepts of good and bad luck, morality and justice.

Alas it feels like too little, too late.



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