Summerfield (1977)

Sex :
Violence :
Director Ken Hannam
Writers Cliff Green
Starring Nick Tate, John Waters, Elizabeth Alexander, Michelle Jarman
Genre Mystery
Tagline Nothing will prepare you for the end.
15 second cap Relief teacher seeks answer to mystery and stumbles on deviant sex and landladies with big boobs


“David's right, it would be imperfect” - Jenny Abbott

Simon Robinson is a substitute teacher sent to the remote community of Bannings Beach after the mysterious disappearance of regular school dude Peter Flynn. Apparently the locals aren't too concerned about Flynn going walk about, though the local service station owner reckons Simon should pick up Flynn's overdue tab. Almost immediately Simon catches the eye of young Sally Abbott, who is a bit lonely, she lives with her mom and uncle on the isolated Island of Summerfield.

Following an accident, in which Simon runs Sally down and breaks her leg, our school teacher is dragged into the Gothic world of Summerfield that harbours a dark secret. Simon also has to contend with locals who aren't exactly urbane, and a landlady with more on her mind than the rent. Can Simon get to the bottom of the various mysteries surrounding Summerfield or will the audience switch off as the movie belabours things?

Ever had one of those “oh no” five second situations? You do something and immediately regret it but are powerless to stop the resulting disasters. I once deleted a live database by mistake, as soon as I issued the command it was all “oh no” but I could do nothing to stop the cyber data mayhem from going down. Well Summerfield is exactly like that, except it's 80 odd minutes of waiting for the movie to catch up with the Audience and actually going somewhere. We all know where things are headed, the obvious hints are pretty well broadcast, and wait around while the movie decides to hit the logical conclusion before spinning a couple of surprises our way.

Which isn't to say Summerfield doesn't have it's charms for those prepared to sit through a slow simmer till the final ten minutes erupts into action. The cinematography by Mike Molloy is simply stunning, all about sunsets and wide angles, though it appears to have more in common with a Victorian State tourist campaign than an actual movie purporting to be something of a thriller. The score by Bruce Smeaton, with it's Japanese and Balinese influences, is simply stunning and captures the almost Gothic mood to perfection. And you have to say Director Hannam knows what he's doing behind the camera, some of the pan shots and focusing on inanimate objects is close to breath taking in construction.

The plot flows in a sort of weird fashion that promises a lot but then delivers a few blanks when it comes to the final block. I got an almost The Wicker Man (1973) feel during the first act of the movie with the locals seemingly unconcerned about disappearances and looking at new comer Simon Robinson with an almost feral glee. The whole mood was one of a small isolated community with secrets to keep. Equally at stages Summerfield almost feels like it's going to take off into the supernatural, with weird noises and Robinson discovering ill kept clues as to what happened to Peter Flynn. And why on earth do we get scenes of the Landlord of the local boarding house having a far more intimate relationship with a large knife than is healthy? Whether or not these are meant to be red herrings or not remains moot, as the major twist isn't going to come as much of a surprise to many people. Ken Hannam could have made a bloody good ghost story here if Writer Cliff Green had of had more in his pencil. Disappointment is largely what you will take from the script.

While there's no doubt the conclusion of the movie goes in a couple of unexpected directions, and at least one major thread winding it's way through the movie is a red herring, there are still some other strange things occurring. Simon Robinson develops a pretty hot relationship with his landlady, normally a punishable offence in a dark genre outing, but besides perhaps reflecting another elicit relationship in the movie the development doesn't go anywhere. When Simon arrives at school for the first time his pupils put on a pretend hanging, for no apparent reason. And one of the weirder card games is thrown into the mixture in case we haven't got enough local colour. I'm not quite sure where all these strange happenings fit in, or why they were included in the first place, there's a whole lot going down in Banning Beach that makes no sense in any logical fashion.

As much as I don't like to criticise dialogue and stupid decisions by script writers, oh shut up, I have to wonder what sort of drugs Cliff Green was on when he belaboured the dialogue for the movie. Besides some stilted lines, full marks to the leads for not bursting into laughter at stages, there's also some conversations that just wouldn't happen in the real world, hence taking the Audience out of the movie. So Sally has a blood disorder, “saltwater in the blood”, that can only occur through hereditary means, this implies that both her parents must have carried the gene. Naturally the local Doctor is only to happy to impart this patient confidentiality to some bloke he has only just meet. Makes you wonder what you should tell your Doctor really. Clearly the conversation is a device to get a plot point across, but really, did it have to be this laboured and unrealistic?

While being somewhat disappointed with the movie, long train running to nowhere station, the last ten or so minutes did live up to expectations, and there's at least one twist I didn't see coming. Not on my recommended list, the movie simply takes too long to get where it's going, but worth a look if a completest on the Australian Dark Genre tour of duty. The odd bit of T&A ensures we get the ozploitation angle, but you have to say with a little more work this could have turned into a cracker of a ghost story. Disappointment I guess after some online hype built the movie up.

Umbrella released a DVD cut that has some problems on transfer, mine stopped on a couple of occasions, but picked up again each time after a few seconds. Don't expect anything like a digitisation of the movie, hey the market is going to be pretty small really. You can pick up a DVD copy online right here, and for the money I have to say it's well worth the investment as the extras are worth having a look at.

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

  Slow mover that broadcasts the twist