Australian director Heath Davis clearly doesn’t think too highly of his country’s Outback, at least according to his alternately contemplative and seedy thriller Locusts. Davis compares its Hills Have Eyes-like inhabitants to the titular insects, a swarm of which “consumes everything in its path… until nothing remains.” If only Davis’ film were propelled by such intensity. In-between numerous, long landscape shots, drenched in corroded golden sunlight, the film offers a pretty basic plot but carries the heavy pretense to artistry. Animal Kingdom it’s not.
After losing most of his money in a bad deal, businessman Ryan (Ben Geurens) leaves Sydney to attend his abusive father’s funeral in a remote hillbilly town, hoping to get daddy’s inheritance. “Due for a f*****g enema,” as one character eloquently puts it, the town’s in shambles, making the dreary Xenia, Ohio of Harmony Korine’s Gummo look like Rio de Janeiro. Overweight, corrupt cops do f**k-all, as local thugs menacingly swarm over Ryan’s expensive car like a bunch of sweaty hyenas – and, worst of all, to his horror, Ryan’s house has been remortgaged.
“After losing most of his money in a bad deal, businessman Ryan leaves Sydney to attend his abusive father’s funeral in a remote hillbilly town…”
Just as he starts to bond with his bumpkin brother Tyson (Nathaniel Dean), the thugs kidnap the latter and give Ryan two days to come up with a hundred grand, or Tyson gets the bullet. With nothing to lose, Ryan swiftly unravels, shedding the glossy “big city” veneer and embracing his provincial roots. Before he knows it, he finds himself on a gun range, face smudged with dirt. He also reconnects with old flame Izzy (Jessica McNamee), who further complicates matters with a heist plan. If you suspend disbelief – which, by this point, you either have or haven’t – the contrived denouement is suitably tense.
Cinematographer Chris Bland captures some gloomily beautiful images of barren desert, low-hanging clouds, rusty cars, and rotting kangaroos – a few too many if you ask me. It’s all the same metaphor being shoved down our gullet: isolation can turn men into savage beasts. We get it. The leathery-skinned, irredeemable scumbags that populate Locusts drive the point home, just in case you miss it.
“…captures some gloomily beautiful images of barren desert, low-hanging clouds, rusty cars, and rotting kangaroos…”
Ben Geurens is okay, if somewhat forgettable as the lead. His transformation from snob to hillbilly is believable enough – at least more so than the exaggerated villainy surrounding him. Everyone – from his lost brother to the coked-up strip-club owner to the wheelchair-bound head of the local gang – is utterly reprehensible. Geurens’ standout moment comes in a scene where he’s harassed by the thugs, who’ve just run him off the street in their pick-up. Though a little too reminiscent of Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, the sequence also happens to be one of the tautest, a standout in an otherwise bland film.
Aside from the obvious visual symbolism, I’m not quite sure what grand statement, if any, Locusts claims to be making. It’s never too late to go home? Money’s the root of all evil? You can’t run away from your past? Familial bonds are stronger than… oh, whatever. Davis’ film is one of those curious cases: nothing’s technically wrong with it, there are some nifty one-liners and its adequate dialogue is supplemented by capable direction. Yet it doesn’t have a single scene that made my heart skip a beat – yes, even when a character gets suddenly hit by a truck. This swarm of Locusts doesn’t particularly overwhelm. Hopefully, it takes Davis less than seven years to concoct a superior follow-up.
Locusts (2019) Directed by Heath Davis. Written by Angus Watts. Starring Ben Geurens, Jessica McNamee, Justin Rosniak, Nathaniel Dean, Ryan Morgan.
5 out of 10