UNDERTOW

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Miranda Nation

Stars: Laura Gordon, Olivia De Jonge, Rob Collins, Josh Helman

Undertow2

Set in Geelong Undertow is an erotically charged psychological drama about grief, loss, obsession, toxic masculinity particularly within the AFL, motherhood, and the nature of female relationships. An intense and disturbing character study it also serves up a raw portrait of a woman suffering a breakdown following an emotionally traumatic event. The title references the turbulent emotions at play in this domestic drama.

Claire (Laura Gordon, from Saw V, etc) is a photojournalist who is still grieving the loss of her stillborn baby due to a miscarriage. One day she spies her husband Dan (Rob Collins, from the tv series Cleverman, etc) at a motel with a teenaged girl, and suspects that he is having an affair. Rather than confront Dan, Claire manages to meet up with the girl and discovers that Angie (played by Olivia De Jonge, from The Visit, etc) is pregnant to local football hero Brett (Josh Helman, from Mad Max: Fury Road, etc), who is a friend of Dan’s. Claire becomes obsessed with Angie and the baby, and a fraught and complicated relationship begins to develop between the two women – one who desperately wants a child and the other who is apathetic about the child she is carrying. Claire’s obsession soon leads to tragedy.

Undertow marks the feature directorial debut for actress turned filmmaker Miranda Nation, an award-winning filmmaker who has a handful of short films to her credit. Nation spent eight years developing the script, initially intending to play the lead role herself. While dealing with some very real raw emotions and tensions, the thematically ambitious script itself is a little uneven and seems disjointed and eventually blurs the line between generic psychological thriller and domestic drama.

An actress herself Nation understands how actors work and is able to draw nuanced and honest performances from her small cast. Gordon taps into some real emotional depths here as the damaged Claire in a psychologically demanding role. De Jonge brings a combination of anger, rebelliousness and vulnerability to her performance as the reckless Angie. Helman’s character seems a little underwritten, and the potentially important subplot concerning his character and the toxic culture of AFL clubs almost comes across as an afterthought.

The film has been shot on location around Nation’s hometown of Geelong itself by ace cinematographer Bonnie Elliott (Palm Beach, etc), and gives us a strong sense of location. Elliott captures a nice juxtaposition between the picturesque beaches of this coastal region and the grittier industrial landscapes of this seaside town. Both Nation and Elliott also bring an more expressionistic approach to the material. Elliott and Nation use motifs such as blood and water to further symbolise the themes of life and death, but this cinematic device ultimately seems a little heavy handed.

Undertow is a film about women made by women that will mainly appeal to a female audience, particularly those who may have suffered a miscarriage or similar personal tragedy.

★★☆

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