Ideology, radicalisation and impending horror: Filmmaker Robin Summons writes about his tense short film, Victim

Kat Stewart in Victim.

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by Matthew Eeles

Among the films in consideration for this year’s AACTA Award for Best Short Film, and one you should be seeking out as it hits the Australian film festival circuit, is Victim – a harrowing short film about the extreme radicalisation of a young man, and his mother’s attempts to keep their mental stability in tact.

Victim is written, produced, directed and expertly crafted by Robin Summons, an award-winning filmmaker from Melbourne who’s work has been selected to play at prestigious international film festivals including Clermont-Ferrand.

The quality of Summons’ work with Victim is backed by incredible performances from his two lead actors – newcomer Ned Stanford who gives a gripping and haunting performance in just his second short film – and Kat Stewart, an Australian screen veteran who gives one of her best performances ever as broken mother, Chrissy. In his article below, Summons calls Stewart one of Australia’s great actors, and it’s hard to disagree. Stewart is captivating here.

I hate to compare one film to another, but Victim has the tone and atmosphere to Snowtown and Nitram. It’s soaked in the familiar impending horror similar to those aforementioned films, and its conclusion is equally heart pounding.

To explain the film further, Cinema Australia invited Summons to expand on the reasons behind the film and the themes he explores within it.

Robbin Summons, Kat Stewart and Ned Stanford on the set of Victim.

“I hope Victim gives the audience some sense of what it’s like to lose a loved one to this kind of ideology and can help illustrate the way radicalisation can sow it’s insidious seeds in any family.”

Written by Robin Summons (writer, director and producer of Victim)

For six months in 2014, I studied at the University of California, Isla Vista.

I barely passed my film theory classes amidst a foggy haze of hedonism. It seemed as though everyone was having a good time.

One night we ran out of beer. I walked out to get more and could immediately feel something was wrong.

Just down the road I saw the police presence. I approached, assuming another privileged kid had lit a couch on fire or something. Police weren’t uncommon at UCSB. But this scene was different.

Students mulled around the fluttering crime scene tape without their usual bravado. A sickening silence settled around the bright yellow barricades.

Elliot Rodger had murdered seven university students, and injured 14 more. He had done so in cold blood. If he had been successful in his intentions, he would have killed every woman in a popular sorority house nearby.

His own manifesto clearly identified him as a violent misogynist and from his perspective, a victim of a culture that didn’t accept him and allow him sex whenever he pleased. An abhorrent by-product of this college culture American dream, I thought. An anomaly.

I was wrong.

Years later, after engaging in a stint of climate activism, I considered writing a screenplay around someone radicalised into a political ideology or activist group.

I widened my research into all kinds of radicalisation. It wasn’t long before I came across Rodger again. In a group that identified themselves as ‘Incels’ (‘Involuntary Celibates’), Rodger had gained an incredible sense of posthumous notoriety and social status.

The self-described ‘community’ of Incels are incredibly misogynistic and openly encourage cruelty, violence and sexual abuse of women on their online forums. This is happening basically in plain sight, with any young man able to access their forums and take the first step towards radicalisation.

Radicalisation doesn’t solely happen in prisons, religious institutions or political groups. In fact, it is increasingly more likely radicalisation will happen in front of a screen in someone’s bedroom.

So how do we respond to these people? What do you say to someone who is so deeply misogynistic? Who is convinced they are the victim despite their actions?

There’s no simple answer. But I hope Victim gives the audience some sense of what it’s like to lose a loved one to this kind of ideology and can help illustrate the way radicalisation can sow it’s insidious seeds in any family.

Ned Stanford in Victim.

As a writer, you are supposed to empathise with all your characters. I find it difficult to truly understand how these kinds of young men think. This is why the film is grounded in Chrissy’s (Kat Stewart) experience as she discovers certain truths about her son. It’s her story that holds the most power and intrigue.

Kat was always my first choice for the role of Chrissy. As a teenager, I remember seeing her in Underbelly and marvelling at the way she grounded the wild character of Roberta Williams. Her warmth and honesty as a performer felt perfect to pull our audience through the dark narrative of Victim. I was incredibly stoked when she said yes to the role. Her depth of experience and professionalism on a low budget short film set was outstanding. She’s one of Australia’s greatest actors.

For the role of Beau, I initially wanted to find a first-time actor who had genuinely spent a lot of time behind a screen. But soon I realised above all, I need a teenager with charisma. We needed to see why Chrissy loved Beau, to see the fleeting sparks of a warmer past. From a musical theatre background, Ned had this spark. So we spent time tempering that spark and ensuring it only surfaced in moments between his heavier scenes in the film. Ned absolutely nailed his first film role.

Ultimately for me, Victim is an exploration of love’s durability in the face of shattering reality. I hope our audiences find their own meanings in the film.

Victim will screen at the Melbourne International Film Festival from Thursday, 11 August. Details here. Victim will screen at CinefestOZ from Thursday, 25 August. Details here.


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