Sydney Film Festival Review: Down Under (Australia, 2016)

Unapologetic, bold Australian “black comedy” Down Under had its world premiere this past week at the 63rd annual Sydney Film Festival, the only logical platform for Writer/Director Abe Forsythe to debut his second feature film seeing as it concerns one of the most talked about and shameful moments in the city’s history. This inevitably controversial film is a fictional recount surrounding the immediate aftermath of the 2005 ‘Cronulla Riots’, an embarrassing and ugly situation which was packed full of enough irony that adapting it into a comedy seems completely fair.

The radical mob violence that sparked worldwide coverage and brought shame to an entire country is hilariously picked apart through Forsythe’s comical tale, following two groups from either side – the “Aussies/Skips” and the “Lebs” – as they irrationally deal with the immediate aftermath of the riots, the so called ‘retaliation attacks’ that perpetuated the violence.

Forsythe’s biggest weapon is that aforementioned irony, and he makes full use of it throughout the 88 minute film, beginning with actual footage from the riots set to a soundtrack of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”, juxtaposing the warm ideals of the December holiday with the drunken hate and ignorance that led to various racially motivated bashings across the beach-side suburb that day. The composition is on the nose throughout the whole film, unconcerned with subtleties as Forsythe doesn’t shy away from exposing the true stupidity of all involved. It’s clumsy in that sense, missing an opportunity to at least briefly explore the sociology behind such an intense mob mentality, and the privilege or lack thereof that was involved in driving both sides. However, this isn’t the type of film that thinks too deeply about the riots, rather content on providing a sharp, laugh-out-loud satire that is entertaining, witty, self-aware, and intentionally offensive.

The tone of the comedy is closer to SBS’ Pizza than anything else, relying heavily on uncomfortable stereotypes, but instead of the long-gone TV program, Forsythe is careful not to unwittingly glorify any such behaviour.

We spend equal amounts of time with the two slowly converging groups. On one hand, there are the “lebs” driving to the Shire from Lakemba, led by the aggressive Nick (Rahel Romahn) who manages to rope in a reluctant Hassim (Lincoln Younes) as well as older, homophobic Muslim Ibrahim (Michael Denkha) and wannabe rapper D-Mac (Fayssal Bazzi). Then you have the embrassingly “bogan” Caucasians from Cronulla on a patrol aggravated by Jason (Damon Herriman) who has put together a team of bong loving Blockbuster employee Shit-Stick (Alexander England), his cousin Evan (Chris Bunton), a young kid with down syndrome who is the most sensible of the lot, and Ned Kelly loving, tattoo-enthusiast Ditch (Justin Rosniak).

Small cameos include Actor/Director David Field (The Combination) in a memorable role as a playful gay meth dealer, and Marshall Napier (McLeod’s Daughters) as Shit-Stick’s patriotic father. Both older, influential figures are who the ill-equipped boys get their more dangerous weapons from, pushing their idiotic plans along with little concern about how it will all pan out.

Hassim, Evan, and Shit-Stick are often used to directly point out the senselessness of it all, most effective when Evan points out to Ditch that Ned Kelly was Irish after the tattoo-obsessive reveals his admiration for the fabled bushranger.

Plenty of jokes are set up early in the movie with their punchlines further down the line, always hitting hard with clever, side-splitting hilarity that further points to the flaws in each character. Ditch, for example, has his face all wrapped up from his most ambitious tattoo yet, and when it’s finally revealed, the results are as offensive and sardonic as the movie gets. Jason also has a pregnant girlfriend (Harriet Dyer) who ironically demands kebabs and Turkish pizzas unconcerned with the xenophobic faux-heroism that is blowing up in her boyfriend’s head. Jokes at the expense of both sides cleverly highlight the similarities they share, and Forsythe drives this home by darting back and forth as the groups get closer together and the film hurtles towards a more tragic, serious tone for which the director holds very little back.


Run Time: 88 minutes

Down Under had its world premiere as part of the 63rd annual Sydney Film Festival. More information can be found HERE. It will receive a wider Australian release on August 11th through StudioCanal.


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Chris Singh

Chris Singh is an Editor-At-Large at the AU review, loves writing about travel and hospitality, and is partial to a perfectly textured octopus. You can reach him on Instagram: @chrisdsingh.