Scarfies aka Crime 101 (1999)

Director Robert Sarkies
Writers Duncan Sarkies, Robert Sarkies
Starring Willa O'Neil, Neill Rea, Ashleigh Seagar, Taika Cohen, Charlie Bleakley, Jon Brazier
Genre Black Comedy
Tagline The grass isn't always greener!

Talk us through it

Five University Students, (Scarfies in Dunedin speak), find an old run down house to squat in. The place is a shambles but has the advantages of no rent, free electricity, and no landlord. Even better they find the basement is heaven as Bob Marley would have envisaged it. Floor to ceiling herb mon. They decided to go into the drug dealing business and off load their ill gotten gains, of course keeping a little for private consumption. They soon hook up with a couple of shady characters and make 50k in a job lot deal.

With their new found wealth the students go on a bit of a spending spree and get ready for home town team Otago taking on the eee-vil Aucklanders in the NPC Division 1 grand final. Just think Braveheart and you will have the clans going to that match about right.

Unfortunately there's a cloud hanging over their otherwise new found mateship in the form of Kevin. A Psycho drug grower who wants to know where his crop has gone. Emma, one of the students, gets the upper hand on Kev and locks him behind a solid metal door down in the basement. Much drama and out and out mayhem ensue.

What do you do when you have a Psycho drug dealer locked up in your basement? Well if you are a Dunedin Student you watch the rugby and crack a couple of beers.

Let's go take a toke on this indie out of Kiwiland ....


"Whatever happened to don't screw the crew!" - Scott

I was meant to review Little Fish overnight but unfortunately my DVD copy crapped out with half an hour or so remaining in the running time. Since l don't know how that movie ties up it's loose ends l can't give an honest opinion on whether it shapes up or not. Was impressed by the stellar cast, was not impressed by the Director would be my take on it. Anyways with nothing to review l thought l might as well dig into the slush pile to see if anything caught my eye, (the slush pile is all those unknown movies that seem to land on my desk from an alternative galaxy or something). Was glad l did! A movie set in my old University stomping grounds, dial me into that one right here right now. Uhmm ... okay lets get on with the review then...

Director Sarkies had me grinning from ear to ear with Scarfies. Clearly shot on a small budget, the Director uses every trick he has to really nail this one to the screen. Interesting use of crane cam to give some overheads, some nice track cam in places, and full use of the Dunedin cityscape. Sarkies doesn't waste anything in his bag of tricks to get you into the movie.

The Director starts out with a comedy viewpoint, moves the movie along throughout, before finally going darker in the final act. Throughout the movie Sarkies keeps us focused on the major players. We see them find friendships through their good fortune, slowly disintegrate as a cohesive unit during the imprisonment of Kevin, before going their separate ways after the film's resolution. Pretty much what happens in most student flats in my experience, without Kevin of course. If you want an action flick this isn't the one for you, there's some minor thrills and spills, but the movie focuses mainly on the characters and how they react to their situation. Some grow, some don't, some are changed forever. Sarkies doesn't make a judgement call anywhere on anyone, he let's the audience make their own minds up.

Visually the movie is quite stunning. Sarkies captures the general coldness of Dunedin, the constant rain, and the beauty it occasionally surprises you with. He doesn't dint at showing the rough side of the Southern city either. The Director nails the locations and makes them work for him.

Sarkies is intune with the environment his movie exists in, and uses the urban landscape to reflect the generation disintegration his main group of characters will go through.

Script wise there were a couple of minor niggles. Firstly if the electricity is on, who's paying for it? No one seems to think this is an issue. Secondly the whole second hand freezer idea. Wasn't buying it even though it proves central to the story line. These are meant to be students pretty much without cash, how exactly did one character come up with the dosh to buy what looked like six or so of the things? Those issues aside l was digging what the Sarkies bros were laying on me, and l would particular applaud the writers for their character development. Some thought went into how a person's actions would affect their future outlook.

A pretty much unknown cast were assembled for the movie. All the leads held their own, with Willa O'Neill (Emma) and Neill Rea (Scott) giving particularly strong performances. However Jon Brazier (Kevin) steals the show with his manic psycho role. You can believe there is a lot of evil intent going on behind those eyes. Brazier had me hook, line, and sinker with his performance in Scarfies. Hope to catch some more of the dude's work in the coming months. Put Brazier in a movie and you'll certainly put my arse in a seat in front of it.

T&A is a non starter I'm sorry to say. Too cold for a start and the movie isn't aimed at titillating anyone. Yo, wanted to use "titillating" at some stage during a review, word 107 crossed off my "must use" list.

You will have a gas with the soundtrack from this one. A lot of home grown bands are used, including The Verlaines "Death and the Maiden", and the Clean "Tally Ho". Dunedin grunge music isn't to everyone's taste, just ask my Wife, but l was rocking along to the beat and getting down with it. Only thing missing was a bit of Tall Dwarfs, but you can't have everything.

Summary Execution

Scarfies rocked my Kasbah. The film moves along at it's own pace, gets you into the characters, and has a sweet ending to tie everything together. Besides there's the Rugby, Otago downed the eee-vil JAFAs 34-17 in case anyone was wondering. Just go with that okay, it's a kiwi movie after all. I would highly recommend this movie to anyone who doesn't mind a bit of left field quirkiness on their movie menu.

Some warnings for parents. There is a high level of language through out, with the "C" word getting an outing on a couple of occasions. You don't even want to know how many times the "F" word gets a run. Equally the film does have a slight bit of violence, and some themes that kids may find nightmare inducing. But hey if you want the stuck up kid next door enthralling his/her parents with their vocabulary be my guest.

Scarfies cleaned up at the New Zealand Film and TV Awards. The movie took out the Best Actress (Willa O'Neill), Director, Editing, Film, Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor (Jon Brazier), awards. Not a bad haul considering Scarfies had some stiff opposition in 2000.

A few beers, a few potato chips, a few more beers, should see you right for this one. You may have difficulties with the accents on occasion, there's quite a bit of kiwi local knowledge going down, and you will either enjoy the soundtrack or turn it down. If you are going to try a kiwi movie this year, then l say go for Scarfies.

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

Excellent debut feature from Kiwi up and comer Robert Sarkies