Tomboys (2009)

Director Nathan Hill
Writers Nathan Hill, Stuart Van Eysden
Starring Candice Day, Naomi Davis, Sash Milne, Allie Hall, Sarah Hill, Daniel Rankine
Genre Revenge
Tagline How Far Will They Go?

Talk us through it

Kat has been the victim of repeated sexual assault and has had enough. Along with her group of mates, she has decided that since the law wont hand out any justice then it's time to take matters into her own hands and distribute some payback on her own terms. It helps that one of her friends has a disused barn on her isolate property that should afford some privacy from prying eyes.

A party provides the opportunity for Kat and her friends to kidnap the intended target, who we learn is a serial rapist, and immobilise him in the barn soon to drib blood. For no apparent reason the object of Kat's revenge is wearing a hood, though I guess that could be due to the gals not knowing exactly how far they intend to take things and not wanting to be recognised.

One thing leads to another and the situation spirals out of control. We learn some more secrets, get splashed with blood, and are left dazed and confused by the mounting tension. Just when you think the situation can't get any worse we learn the gals grabbed the wrong bloke! Big oops, but hey they get to do it all again.

Just how far will the girls go, and is there any redemption for anyone?


"In fact we're all going to have our way with him tonight" - Kat

I guess before getting into a discussion of the merits of Tomboys I should point out the film is pretty brutal and in your face. Director/Writer Nathan Hill isn't taking a backward step and returns us to the late seventies style revenge flick that is both confrontational and asks the Audience to re-evaluate their own moral position. While I'm not particularly enamelled by what the yanks term "torture porn" and we call gorenography I'm pretty happy that Hill isn't simply heading into exploitation territory and more importantly isn't simply bludgeoning his audience over the head with sensationalism. The violence here is necessary in order to explore the group dynamic amongst the five women who have stepped over the line from civilisation to savagery. Indeed, how far will the women as individuals go when the slicing begins to get serious.

Director Hill opens his movie with a solid fast cut scene that will set the groundwork for what is to come. Things are almost in black and white, there is no colour involved. I'm not talking that "drained of colour" look that some Directors use to visualise atmosphere, I'm talking stark black and white. Hill forces the eye to focus on the center of each frame, there are no establishing shots or panoramic flourishes. The Audience are in the here and now, as isolated as the set would appear to be. We don't quite get a full exposition of what we are viewing and when a meat hook is briefly focused on we are expecting things to get a whole lot worse before the sun comes up the next morning. We are left with some unknown dude, hands tied together, hoisted on a meat hook in a non-descript barn. It's a shocking opening and leaves the Audience on notice that this isn't likely to be a modern remake of Mary Popkins. A spoon full of sweetness isn't likely to make this medicine go down any better friends and neighbours.

For no apparent reason Director Hill goes with title cards to introduce his female characters. I'm starting to really hate this device as it seems every second Indie outing is now utilising the technique whether the movie requires it or not. Hill's characters are well drawn and you won't be confusing one with another, ergo the title cards are not needed and are an unnecessary distraction from the pacing and flow of the movie. Title cards are for poorly drawn characters and remain a copout for amateur Directors, Hill here shows he doesn't have to rely on them.

What's interesting about Tomboys is the almost stage crafted look and feel Hill gives to the movie. We are presented with a single location, the barn, and the lighting brings to mind German expressionism. You can almost believe that if the camera pulled back just a tad more you would note an orchestra pit in view. Whether or not the decision to go with the look and feel was a gambit by the Director or forced by budgetary requirement is a moot point, it's working like a brought one, which end of day is all we really care about.

The real strength of Tomboys is in the five female actors who pull off one of the more intense experiences you are ever likely to fall across in Australian cinema. This isn't a Baz Lohman Mills and Boons outing, this is an intense brutal confrontation horror flick that wallows in the psychological abyss opening steadily under the Characters' and Audience's feet. Kat clearly has a few roos bounding around the top paddock and steadily descends into her own madness, Crystal seems to be enjoying things slightly too much, Naomi will reach her own breaking point, Emily freely participates for her own reasons but finds redemption (in my sordid opinion at least), and Imogen provides the only hand break available. Each of the female characters are well drawn and compelling. Add in second victim, Kyle, who pretty much ensures we are thinking he should get what he deserves, and Director Hill is asking the Audience to examine their own morals. Just how far would you go seems to be the underlying question.

Hill at no stage of Tomboys running time allows the Audience off the hook, no pun intended, the Director is coming at you with both guns blazing and a damn the torpedos attitude. The movie is intense, confrontational, and does not present any easy options for the Audience. There is no light at the end of the tunnel with Tomboys, no one is getting out of that barn without a few scars to show for the night's activities. I would actually like to see Hill make a sequel in mockumentary style that has each of the women talking about their actions on the night and their thoughts afterwards. Hill and his cast leave you pretty shattered as the end credits role and we are left to ponder just how thin the veneer of civilisation really is.

Director Hill pretty much presents us with a European styled movie of the noir variety. The movie is almost French in its reliance on dialogue driven approach to advancing the plot and lack of anything approach colour to distract the audience from the drama unfolding. Surprisingly Hill manages to avoid his movie becoming sterile by excellent use of lighting and tight frame work. The Director seems to have a natural flare for anticipation, with the more shocking scenes made almost unbearable by the tension leading into them.

Candice Day (Kat), Naomi Davis (Naomi), Sash Milne (Emily), Allie Hall (Imogen), and Sarah Hill (Crystal) simply rock the house down with strong performances that should have driven a stake through the heart of the bloodsuckers currently administrating our movie awards ceremonies. I don't like to speak ill of the dead, which the winners this year are box office wise, but who is going to remember them in twelve months time? I guarantee the performances we find in Tomboys are going to stay with you a lot longer. Almost forgot Daniel Rankine (Kyle) is simply going to be the character you love to hate. Rankine is fully in his role, and was an excellent casting choice considering the pivotal position his character occupies in the evolving "Lord of the Flies" situation going down.

Asher Pope knocked together a score that reminded me of John Carpenter at his best. Pope's composition is disturbing, ominous, and very heavy in atmosphere. Nathan Hill uses the score as required to underline his visuals and provide a generally foreboding atmosphere but is prepared to go silent on occasion to further enhance the feel on screen.

Summary Execution At stages of Tomboys' running time I considered turning the movie off and hitting something slightly less blood drenched. Nathan Hill goes well down the gorenography path but it has to be said does so with a well mapped out intention not making the onscreen mayhem his single focus. There's some expected horror tropes coming at you, if your horrordar is up than the dude still being alive as the gals decide some dismemberment might hide the sins is obvious, but Hill is approaching things from a pretty unique perspective. The movie is obvious low budget, the film stock is a dead give away, and my copy of the DVD froze in a couple of spots irritating the hell out of me. However Hill pretty much won me over with his style though the ending is a slight let down for mine.

Tomboys was another of those Indie Australian horror flicks that went under the radar in 2009. There was a real feeling during the year that the dark genre was exploding with numerous higher profile movies being both released and disappearing from the public eye in a continued maelstrom of creativity. Thankfully a DVD was released, though there was little fanfare, and I managed to snag a copy from The Ezy online. I would expect a number of rental outlets to have a copy or two as well dependant on their dark genre commitment.

There's a certain degree of unease in recommending Tomboys due to the graphic nature of the violence, but I feel in the wash up the movie is important in terms of the horror genre in 2009 and is worth hunting down. This is horror as subversive and confrontational and the movie is not an easy watch. I wouldn't let the teens in your household anywhere near this one as it's a mature adult orientated ride to the edge of the abyss. The first cut is likely to be the deepest with Tomboys though that's one barbeque I could have flagged away!

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

A confrontation film that shows what can be done with a careful approach.