Directed by Heath Davis
Written by Angus Watts
Starring Ben Geurens, Jessica McNamee, Nathanil Dean, Andy McPhee, Justin Rosniak, Steve LeMarquand, Damian Hill and Alan Dukes.
“Playing like some mongrel hybrid between Wake in Fright and Get Carter, Davis’ latest turns familiar narrative earth – alienated scion returns to a hostile hometown and old grudges break to new mutiny – but finds unusual tonal varieties under the surface.”
by Travis Johnson
Having already proved he’s nimble enough to jump from genre to genre with his first two films, the rugby drama Broke and the black comedy Book Week, tireless Australian director Heath Davis turns to a third area of inquiry with Locusts, written by newcomer Angus Watts. Call it outback noir, if you like. Playing like some mongrel hybrid between Wake in Fright and Get Carter, Davis’ latest turns familiar narrative earth – alienated scion returns to a hostile hometown and old grudges break to new mutiny – but finds unusual tonal varieties under the surface.
Dying country town Serenity Crossing is our setting, a dust-strewn, decrepit joint sketched in sickly earth hues of yellow and ochre, and Ryan Black (Ben Geurens), now a success in the tech sector, is back for the only reason that could possibly attract him there: the funeral of his alcoholic, abusive father (Malcolm Kennard in flashbacks), and the disposition of the old man’s estate. Unfortunately, the old man left debts and wheelchair-bound local crime boss McCrea (Alan Dukes, as menacing here as he was raffish in Book Week) aims to collect. Neither Ryan nor his dissolute brother, Tyson (Nathaniel Dean) are in much of a position to come up with the cash, and so things soon turn dire.
Locusts excels in its sense of place; drought-stricken Serenity Crossing is as familiar as it is repellent, a blasted husk of a town populated by people with nowhere else to go, weaving their little webs and making their little deals, waging their little wars and nursing their little feuds. It’s pitiful unless you, like Ryan, find yourself caught up in it, and then it becomes terrifying, with physical threat in this case supplied by McCrea’s quartet of ol’ mate thugs (Steve Le Marquand, Damian Hill, Ryan Morgan, Justin Rosniak). Modern noir flavor comes courtesy of a rather improbable local strip club where local cop Sergeant Harvey (Peter Phelps) holds court and stripper Isabella (Jessica McNamee) provides comfort and alluring danger in classic femme fatale style. At first these elements don’t quite mesh with the more apocalyptic tone of the rest of the milieu – how is this joint making any money, for one thing – until you realise that’s pretty much the point: everyone here is just running out their string, playing the hand they’ve been dealt, and looking for some kind of edge or option to escape.
It’s all rather reminiscent of John Dahl’s better stuff, particularly Red Rock West, but Watts and Davis put the focus on toxic masculinity rather than treacherous masculinity. There’s a sense of inevitable doom to the proceedings, and not just because of the plague of locusts that will shortly decimate the area (that’s called symbolism, folks); the violence and the sheer, mad dog meanness on display is generational, fraternal, self-reinforcing, dragging everyone involved – poor Ryan included – into an ever-tightening spiral of tit-for-tat aggression and response until the inevitable savage apotheosis hits with bone-cracking impact.
Locusts is probably too unblinking and unsentimental to gain wide popularity – we only like our tales of toxic manhood when they’re lionized and painted as clowns, it seems – and there are times when its adherence to the tropes of its genre trip up its loftier thematic ambitions, but if you’re down for some grim ruminations of the cause and cost of masculine trauma, it’s well worth your time.
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