If there is one genre that is truly missing from Australian films, it would have to be psychological horror or even regular horror with a healthy gore-fest. The Speirig Brothers made a successful one million dollar attempt with “Undead” (2002) in the horror department but as for psychosomatic terror there is nothing that comes to mind. “Max: A Cautionary Tale” could very well be the first of its style from Australia, but the only problem with statements such as the one above is that there are so many barely released underground films from this country that you couldn’t say for sure what has already been attempted. So this declaration is attributed to the as far as I know portion of my mental encyclopedia.
Damien (Geoffrey Smith) is essentially like an easier going version of Donnie Darko. He and his family have just moved into a new house, only Damien has the feeling that something is not quite right within the dwelling. The history of that particular house involved the brutal murder of a mother at the hands of her small child which occurred sometime in the early twentieth century. Damien hangs out with his two school friends Spiller (Robert Edwards) and Theo (Tristan Hamilton) who seem to be meagrely intelligent compared to him. Along with his routine relationships, a young girl Deborah (Amber Clayton) enters his life that is new to his school who is beautiful, mysterious and unpopular. Damien begins to see visions of a woman standing at a window along the path of a long and eerie hallway which looks similar to the one in his new house. Damien has these visions in both reality and in his nightmarish dreams which are both closely related. Following what seems to be a bad series of imaginings, various people around Damien seem to be forming creations that are directly related to his visions, but soon his senses work their way into a harsh reality that Damien in the centre of.
Director Nicholas Verso has said that for this film he aspired to put the cast of “The Breakfast Club” (1985) into “A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge” (1985) and I would say that he succeeded in doing that much. The film was shot mainly on digital video, with nightmare sequences shot on stunningly vivid B&W Super-8 which adds amazing visuals and an inspired atmosphere. With a reputed budget of around $3,000, “Max: A Cautionary Tale” does pull its weight, but unfortunately I felt that it was building up to a suspenseful finale only to be let down a little by a slapdash final quarter. I felt that the personal relationships between Damien and Deborah and Damien and Spiller needed to be a little more elaborated as there appeared to be some workable material between those characters that went untouched.
An amazing feature debut by Nicholas Verso who is showing the beginnings of a capable genre filmmaker and I must say he directed what appeared to be an unprofessional cast into some very skilled performers. The film is definitely motivated by a John Hughes style of characterization as the characters speak in Australian accents but are clear-cut cases of suburban America. It does ring true because I mean where to all the best films and shows usually come from? The States! We are inspired by our big brother U.S.A. so I think it suited the piece to kind of jumble the cultures. Nicholas Verso is really on to something fresh in Australian film, I just think that this film was the learning curve which is to be expected on a first feature.