An average Australian high school. A girl hears a sound from another cubicle and asks if that person is all right. Hearing no answer, she calls a teacher. More and more frantically, they bang on the door, but there is no reply from inside. Blood trickles under the door… It’s 2.37 pm.
After that start, 2:37 flashes back to earlier, and we follow six characters and we learn about their problems. Melody (Teresa Palmer) discovers she is pregnant. Her brother Marcus (Frank Sweet) is desperately trying to impress his father, for whom even an 87% score is not good enough. Luke (Sam Harris) seems to have everything: a handsome sports star with a beautiful girlfriend, but he has a secret. His girlfriend Sarah (Marni Spillane) hides an eating disorder. Meanwhile, gay Sean (Joel Cox), fighting parental rejection and his own alienation, resorts to drugs. And Steven (Charles Baird) is the butt of ridicule due to a medical condition which causes incontinence. Every so often, each of the six talks directly to camera, as their lives intertwine, building up to…something I’ll let you discover for yourself.
2:37, a debut film from twenty-two-year-old Adelaide-based writer/director Malluri K. Thalluri, is well made, very strongly acted by a cast of unknowns, and has a powerful impact. It’s not until that impact wears off that reservations begin to creep in. Thalluri is self-taught: film schools told him it was unrealistic to make a feature in his twenties or even thirties, so he left and did just that. He clearly has talent and confidence, though this early in his career some of his influences are a little obvious. The long tracking shots around the school building, and the narrative technique of seeing certain key events from different viewpoints, inevitably reminds us of Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, though its subject matter is very different. Its characters all have intense problems at a fraught period of their lives…but each one of them is so wrapped up in him or herself that they do not notice when someone else needs help.
Thalluri also has considerable ability with his young cast, none of whom had acted before. (However, one of them, Frank Sweet, has an established actor as a father, namely Gary Sweet, who has a small role as a teacher.) Considering the difficult scenes some of them have to take part in, they are all impressive. Indeed, some of them make more of their parts than is actually in the script. Marni Spillane, for example, has an expressive face that conveys more than her rather one-note role. (Simply showing someone throwing up in the girls’ toilets is not sufficient as insight into a bulimic.) Possibly the hardest role is that of Kelly (Clementine Mellor), a classmate of Marcus and Steven, and the key role outside the main six, who makes a considerable amount out of a few lines and scenes.
His script is well constructed, though second time round you do notice some contrivances. In the final half hour, there are three main plot revelations. The final one is certainly legitimate, given the film’s narrative strategy. However, the other two do depend on information being deliberately withheld from the viewer to produce a surprise – and when we are in those characters’ heads and have them speak directly to camera, and those characters have full knowledge of what is being kept from us, that’s tantamount to cheating. Some of Thalluri’s directorial flourishes go over the top, such as Steven’s footballing fantasy halfway through.
Be warned, the climactic suicide scene is very hard to watch. Thalluri has said that he filmed it as graphically as he did in order to deter others. On the other hand, some mental health bodies have expressed concerns that the film could lead to copycat suicides. Given that they cut a similar scene in The Rules of Attraction for video/DVD release, you have to wonder if the BBFC might have difficulties with this scene. However, that remains moot as 2:37 has yet to be submitted to them. Outside a showing in the Barbican (London) annual Australian Film Festival in 2007, it has not as yet had a British cinema or DVD release.
2:37 is clearly a personal project, as the final dedication makes clear. Despite its flaws, it’s an impressive debut from a still-young director, and I’d certainly like to see what he will do, given further experience and maturity. The results could be well worth waiting for. 2:37 was an official selection for Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2006. It was nominated for three Australian Film Institute Awards: Best Lead Actress for Teresa Palmer, Best Original Screenplay and for a Young Actor’s Award for Frank Sweet, though none of them won.
Icon’s Australian DVD release of 2:37 is a single dual-layered disc encoded for Region 2 as well as Region 4.
The transfer is anamorphically enhanced in a ratio of 1.85:1. 2:37 was originated on three formats. Most of it was shot on standard-definition digital video, but the opening slow-motion footage used Super 16mm film and the black-and-white material of characters talking to camera was high-definition digital video. The differences in sharpness between the three is noticeable if you look closely. The colours on the SD video which makes up the bulk of the film are true enough, though the result is a little soft. Overall, nothing to complain about given the sources used.
The main soundtrack is in Dolby Digital 5.1 with an analogue Dolby Surround alternative. There’s no question that the 5.1 track is the one to go for, as the film’s sound design is outstanding and makes considerable use of directional effects. The result is highly immersive, but importantly the dialogue is always clear and the music (especially Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies, which features quite heavily) as it should be. Subtitles are directionally placed in the frame; they are available for the feature only.
The audio commentary features Thalluri, producer Kent Smith and DP/co-producer Nick Matthews. Thalluri talks the most out of them, but his enthusiasm is infectious. It’s clear that all three participants are very proud of the film they made.
Next up is a making-of documentary (33:10). This is pretty standard, though interesting, describing the film’s progress from its inception in a particularly low point in Thalluri’s life, to its financing, casting and production, featuring interviews with most of the principal cast and crew and behind-the-scenes footage. Also on the disc are two deleted scenes – “Stephen Tracking Shot” (4:34) and “Funeral Scene” (3:18) – and the theatrical trailer (1:50) and separate stills galleries for behind-the-scenes shots and production stills.
There’s no doubt that the subject matter of 2:37 will make this a tough watch for many people. I’ve carefully avoided spoilers, but be warned that graphic suicide is not the only subject matter in this film which may repel as many as it entices, nor the only reason for the film’s R rating. This is most definitely not a film for children or younger teenagers, and anyone squeamish or easily offended should beware. But once all of that is said, the talent of its very young writer/director is obvious and despite its flaws, his film certainly makes an impression.
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