London Australian Film Festival: Suburban Wildlife Review
It’s the summer in outer Sydney, and three friends have just graduated from University. Louise (Hannah Lehmann) is about to leave for London and a job, and it’s doubtful she will come back. That’s something that her best friend Nina (Maddy McWilliam) is finding it difficult to come to terms with. Alice (Priscilla Doueihy) and Kane (Alex King), who unlike the others didn’t go on to further education but is stacking shelves (for a company in-jokily called McCluskey’s) are also facing that their group of friends is about to splinter and things will never be the same again.
“Coming of age” often means young-adult, as in novels and their film equivalents, dealing with late teenage characters. But that isn’t to say that the process is over in your early twenties, far from it. Imogen McCluskey, director and co-writer (in the latter capacity with Béatrice Barbeau-Scuria) is herself now in her mid-twenties, so you can’t doubt this film’s authentic view of its characters on the cusp of adulthood. Suburban Wildlife was shot over fourteen days in February 2017, in between McCluskey’s second and third year at the Australian Film, Radio and Television School, for a tiny budget of A$4000, partly raised through crowdfunding. You can excuse a few rough edges given the circumstances of the film’s making – handheld camerawork is overdone here and there - but this is a film which doesn’t need many excuses. It’s an accomplished feature debut.
Suburban Wildlife taps very much into millennial angst. Alice wants to travel abroad to expand her life and her horizons, but can she go somewhere that her parents haven’t always been. Over the film’s running time, tensions come to light within the quartet. Louise is nicknamed “Mum” by the others and she is beginning to resent that she has to be the one who has to organise the others so that things can happen – as she says, it’s like making sure they’ve all been to the toilet before they get into a car. And Nina is coming to terms with her sexuality. Although she claims to have had boyfriends before, she is increasingly attracted to women. You can see the influences in this film. Gus Van Sant and Andrea Arnold are obvious ones, as is the mumblecore movement. It’s a very mood-and-character-led piece, so while not a great deal happens on the surface considerably more does so underneath. It’s insightful, often funny, sticks in the mind afterwards, and definitely confirms Imogen McCluskey as a name to watch.
Surburban Wildlife showed at the London Australian Film Festival, followed by a Q & A with Imogen McCluskey. There will be an additional screening (advertisement and trailer-free) at the Picturehouse Central, London, on Saturday 6 July at 6.30pm with a Q & A with McCluskey. Further UK distribution is to be confirmed.