Coffin Rock (2009)

Director Rupert Glasson
Writers Rupert Glasson
Starring Robert Taylor, Lisa Chappell, Sam Parsonson
Genre Thriller
Tagline Be careful what you wish for...

Talk us through it

Jessie and Rob live in a small South Australian fishing village and have been trying without success to conceive. Naturally the whole town knows about the lack of issue and Rob worries that he might he shooting blanks, hence naturally in a small town South Aussie way he is less than a man or something. Jessie convinces Rob to head into the big smoke for a helping hand via IVF, a chancy business at the best of times. Both wait with anticipation to see if Jessie falls pregnant while Rob worries his boys might not be all they could be. Neither notices the Irish receptionist who seems to be taking slightly too much interest in them.

A few weeks later Jessie is sweating on the letter from the IVF clinic that Rob has thrown behind the sofa, clearly Jessie can't be arsed doing any housework. A new arrival in town is Evan, an Irish backpacker who scores work at the local fishing plant and who previously worked at a certain IVF clinic. During a drunken night at a local bar Jessie fights off the attentions of one of the local bogans but ends up having unwanted sex with Evan. Naturally she becomes pregnant, whether by Evan or IVF remains unknown, and Evan really starts obsessing about Jessie and the unborn child.

Load up on bait, we're heading into Fatal Attraction Aussie style.


Rupert Glasson's debut movie is surprisingly a highly intelligent richly complex look at rural life in Australia that really only fails on the horror elements unfortunately. What Glasson does however is highlight a recent trend in Aussie horror that sees the dangers inherent on the Continent not just reserved for the outback or the local Psychos. Indeed like Gone Glasson points the finger at imported Psychos giving the local sharks, crocs, and assorted Mick Taylors a run for their money. Rural Australian, at least on the coast in South Australia, is painted as pretty idyllic with the usual personal problems the whole town knows about that only descends into chaos with the arrival of a foreigner. Whether or not Glasson is intentionally hooking into anxieties about recent Australian immigration trends (including the assorted ratbags arriving on these shores that the bogan press is only too happy to highlight), unintentionally has struck a vein here, or simply just wanted to make a movie, remains a moot point. In the wash up the Director has pretty much delivered a thriller that had this reviewer happily munching down on his potato chips and grabbing another brew from the fridge. In short I was rocking to Glasson's beat and wondering why my local cinema doesn't show movies of this calibre rather than the assorted "blockbusters" the yanks throw at us each year.

Your average Roo gets a pretty hard time of it judging by Aussie dark genre movies, in fact it's surprising any of the poor buggers are still hoping around. Besides being the main ingredient of dog food, Razorback, and the focus of local bogan hunting and drinking rampages, Wake In Fright, they now have to contend with psychopathic Irish backpackers intent on bashing the young marsupials to death. Actually I'm just pointing out your local PETA supporter is probably not going to be comfortable with this movie as there's cinematic cruelty to animals and the local "sea kittens" aren't getting treated like royalty. If easily offended find another movie as Coffin Rock does escalate into some pretty disturbing violence and the abuse of Telstra property.

Don't worry I'll get to the discussion of the actual movie shortly but just thought I should point out that Director/Writer Glasson's Coffin Rock should in no way be confused with The Blair Witch Project locales.

Rupert Glasson once again shows why the Aussie horror film industry is kicking down doors OS, but remains pretty much unknown on it's own shores.

Coffin Rock kicks off with all the hallmarks of being a domestic drama, the sort that the Aussie Film Finance people will throw millions at as long as we either have a drug culture or ethnic experience sub plot happening. Rupert Glasson here demonstrates he is undeserving of finance as he simply shows the impact of infertility on a white Aussie couple without a glue sniffing Koori in sight. The opening block of the movie is taunt, fill of the sort of subdued pressures that can hit a marriage between two people who obviously love each other, and how in a small town everyone seems to know, almost by osmosis, the problems you are facing. In Coffin Rock you never need walk alone, the whole town is pretty much rooting for you. Which is just what Jessie and Rob are planning to do as the movie opens, clearly it's one of Jessie's high fertility moments and pages are going off calling the faithful to the wedding bed for some afternoon, or morning, delight. The block finishes with Jessie dragging the reluctant Rob to an IVF clinic in what I guess is Adelaide, the South Australian capital. Since I've never been that far South, way too many Psychos and assorted inbreeds for my liking, you'll have to be content thinking its Adelaide. Not that the city, Adelaide or otherwise, is of overriding importance here, Coffin Rock remains firmly set in the rural, but the results of Jessie and Rob's trip to the metropolis is of importance.

About mid way through the film Director Glasson switches track and goes all fatal attraction on us. It's been a wonderful build up as we know the characters, the strains in various relationships, and have met the requisite assortment of local characters. Thankfully Glasson avoids the ocker influence of our comedies, and hits with a realistic portrayal of rural South Australia. Coffin Rock is happy in its own enclosed world, life goes on around personal issue, the forces of chaos descend in the form of a young Irishman from the external world.

Glasson focuses on secrets, things left unsaid, and possessiveness as his film moves into darker waters with the situation his characters find themselves in getting more and more out of control as Jessie clings to her secret and Rob simply refuses to man up to the IVF report. Horror is filled of incidents where people through their own actions or inactions bring about their situation, and Glasson's Coffin Rock dials into this concept like a runaway train. Evan is indeed a psychopath, but how much leeway did he leverage via the inability of others to face up to their current situation. There's a general feeling you reap what you sow, and in the closing scenes Jessie has certainly got a bumper crop, but is she the only one at fault here?

On the bright side of the knife Director Glasson avoids Hollywood jump scenes, there's perhaps one sudden shock coming at you, and simply portrays violence in all its self degrading fashion. Rob seems perpetually to be one moment away from glassing someone, he's a brooding character, while Evan simply goes the tonk with firebombs, phones, and tire irons. There's probably a statement on civilisation going down there, but hey I'm in it for the bunny boiling. Glasson shots with an eye to realism rather than fixating on shot composition and "cool" angles. When the whip goes down Glasson isn't pulling his punches or aiming for PG13th ratings.

One of the interesting aspects to Glasson's work here is an almost Hitchcock, circa Psycho, use of shoulder cam and angles. The audience is placed in the position of being the voyeur throughout the movie. Rather than viewing events we are somehow just out of shot and are involved in the events. Glasson almost uses the camera as an unseen character and adopts a prowling approach that fits in wonderfully well with the night time scenes. There's a feeling of spying on Jessie, Rob, and even Evan that perhaps fits in with the overall small town "knowing" concept. How Evan managed to keep his extra curricula activities secret in this community is a surprise in and of itself. Excellent camera work, Glasson has an eye for atmosphere and raising tension levels simply by angle selection and camera use, it's an amazingly adept performance from a young Director.

Robert Taylor (Rob Willis) was a solid selection, in more ways than one, and simply breaths his stoic and troubled character. Lisa Chappell (Jessie) was wonderful here and her performance had me believing in her character. The one down side was a lack of chemistry between Taylor and Chappell but this could be due to the strains being placed on their relationship. Sam Parsonson (Evan) was not a great casting choice for mine. Parsonson wasn't menacing and didn't pull off the requisite "nice guy no one is going to believe is a psycho" either. The Irish actor came across as someone's kid brother who had been slightly naughty rather than a deranged sociopath. As stated Glasson isn't on top form with the horror elements in Coffin Rock, they could almost have been jettisoned.

Sorry was help spellbound by the movie so didn't note the score or soundtrack. Guess it was working like a brought thing then, assuming you subscribe to the soundtrack shouldn't be intrusive frame of reference.

Summary Execution

Coffin Rock was one of those movies from 2009 that I had written down as a must see and which naturally didn't get a cinema release here on the bogan coast. Surprisingly I completely missed the DVD release date as well but my local bottlo come DVD store had naturally ordered a copy in, they have the good taste to get at least one copy of all Aussie movies in store. I snaffled the movie pretty damn quickly and immediately sat down to see if Coffin Rock would live up to its reputation. Thankfully all was well and I had a bloody good time with this movie, Director Glasson hit the perfect beat, things rocked on like a wild night up the Cross, and besides some pretty poor horror elements all was right with the cinematic world. I had a blast with the movie and dug the poignant unresolved ending.

[Editor's Note] - rant coming up in next paragraph!

Naturally Coffin Rock didn't overly impress in limited release in our cinemas. $32k isn't a lot to write home about, as the locals dialled into the yank product rather than our own industry. Pass the Southern Cross tatts, we're full up, never heard of the movie mate. Coffin Rock is currently available on DBD Down Under and is starting to appear on the lists of foreign film festivals and getting some notice in the foreign film press. Another example of superior Aussie product being pushed into the background by subpar Boredwood conveyor belt blandness that the masses lap up. It's an instant gratification market folks, let's not make our audience actually think about what they are watching. Yes this is going to be a recurrent theme for me in 2010, call me a flag waving bogan, but hell someone has got to blow the trumpet for local films.

I would implore every Kiwi, Aussie, Brit, or anyone else reading this column to immediately rush out and grab a copy of Coffin Rock. The movie wears its Hitchcock influences with pride and Director Glasson goes one step beyond the requirements for a solid thriller. Get ready to rock, if you don't like this one then you are probably ready for a coffin. Yes that was pushing it even by my standards.

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

  Director/Writer Glasson delivers a thriller that will hold you spellbound.