Beautiful (2009)

Director Dean O'Flaherty
Writers Dean O'Flaherty
Starring Sebastian Gregory, Tahyna Tozzi, Deborra-lee Furnessre
Genre Thriller
Tagline Get Me Some Secrets
Country

Talk us through it

Sunshine Hills is your upwardly mobile middle class suburb, containing both McMansions and more modest redbrick houses from a more na´ve time. Watching her street from behind closed curtains is Mrs Thomson who introduces us to the seamier side of the street. Seems teenage girls have gone missing, rape and incest is on the rise in the neighbourhood, and the darkened house at number 46 may harbour some secrets worth knowing.

Mrs Thomson's daughter is the narcissistic Suzy who likes to sunbath in her one piece swim suit in the front garden. Naturally Suzy is more than interested in knowing what goes on behind closed doors and enlists the aid of the hopelessly besotted Danny to go and find out what's happening in the neighbourhood and particular what the story is with the women in white who stares out the windows of number 46 all day long.

Danny, who has a sideline in taking secret photos of Suzy, is an outsider and socially inept. He doesn't take too much convincing from the conniving object of his desires to start peeking through windows and finally to get inside number 46.

Seems Danny isn't ready as things spiral out of control and Suzy many not be the only one manipulating the situation.

Review

"What they don't talk about is the fear." - Mrs Thomson

Director/Writer Dean O'Flaherty starts Beautiful promisingly enough with a series of camera angles seemingly taken in a typical Australian Middle Class Suburb. A voice over informs us that a number of teenage girls have been abducted from the picturesque streets and murdered , and just in case we miss the point there are a number of dramatisations of what might have happened on certain fateful nights. I was settling in to catch what I hoped was a tale of madness in the 'burbs that would pit one or two lead characters against a psycho killer in a showdown toward the end of the movie. Reinforcing the notion was the car depicted in the abduction flashbacks that more than resembled a certain other car featuring heavily elsewhere in the movie. Just when we are comfortable with where things are going O'Flaherty takes a hard left turn, misses the curve, and crashes into the swamp of disappointment. I've never actually sat through a movie that promised so much yet delivered such a convoluted and contrived plot before. I don't even think Boredwood would have had the gumption to try this stuff on. Beautiful simply wallows in predictable characters and things happening because the script requires them to.

O'Flaherty presents in Danny, a character that should be instantly recognisable to Australian audiences because we have seen similar characters in 101 local movies before, in pretty unconvincing fashion. Danny is the outsider who isn't getting with the program, who would rather read a book than play basketball, and who's only interests seem to be his camera and the hot chick sunbathing down the road. That Danny's ultimate naivety will bring total chaos to bare in the suburban backblocks is pretty much preordained from the character's introduction.

Similarly Suzy is simply a cardboard cutout of the most misogynistic nature. Suzy uses her good looks and model body to get what she wants and falls upon Danny in almost predatory glee. There's no attempt to explain the character of Suzy or give her any depth, Suzy is simply a force of nature or if we wanted to be brutally honest, and we do, a plot device dreamed up by the Script writer to move things to the surprise climax.

In an age when Australian cinema is fighting to get bums on seats to see local movies, you honestly expect a whole lot better than this reheated malaise of barely thought out themes and retarded character development.

The movie promises a lot and then leaves you alone and cold in a motel room you would rather not have visited. The Director barely considers his audience to have any intelligence and hence fails on more levels than a Chinese apartment block.

Dean O'Flaherty completely alienates his audience by treating them as idiots, there's no respect going down here folks, O'Flaherty seems to have the notion that no one will get what he is trying to say without large neon signs constantly flashing plot points at us. O'Flaherty has his actors reduced to speaking the most banal lines in order to tell the Audience what they should think. It's contrived and so obviously scripted that you are immediately taken out of the movie. "You've got to learn to be like everyone else", Danny's father, lecturing him on the importance of conformity. O'Flaherty then goes on to show how different Danny is to the other kids in a couple of tossed together scenes. Sorry some dude wandering around with a camera taking happy snaps of the local femme fatal is normally enough to indicate we have someone straying from the herd mentality, I don't need this spelled out, underlined, and then printed in bold type Mr O'Flaherty.

And just in case someone somewhere didn't get what O'Flaherty is painstakingly trying to yell at us, we got a bunch of repetitive scenes that simply rehash the same plot points over and over again. It's coma inducing and at stages I was almost screaming at the screen to move the plot forward.

The conclusion, which comes out of left field and involves a barely functioning character trait O'Flaherty painfully ascribes to Danny, is left as one of the more confusing footnotes to cinematic history in Australia. I don't even want to go near the possible implications there or why a number of ideas developed in early scenes were left high and dry as the end credits rolled. Uhmm, the birds Danny inevitably releases, did O'Flaherty simply forget that development or was it meant to be a sudden shock scene that missed the mark? Mrs Thomson's closing monologue, once again from behind closed curtains, is this meant to imply wheels within wheels, or did O'Flaherty need something slightly sinister to close out proceedings? I have no idea, and O'Flaherty isn't a strong enough film maker to make the question of overriding importance.

On the bright side of the urban divide O'Flaherty has the cinematography down well and uses an intriguing range of shots to keep interest in his film from totally waning. From close ups of snails moving at their own pace, to wide angle tree lined suburban landscapes, the Director is making a good looking movie that really deserved a far better script. I would be interested to see what O'Flaherty can do next, but am crossing my fingers he gets someone else to write the script for him.

Sebastian Gregory (Danny) has come out of the ranks of television and is pretty impressive here. He lets his body language and eyes do the work for him, but when required to hit the emotional thing manages to raise his character above the dross it's derived from. Tahyna Tozzi (Suzy), gets to do a standard Aussie character and doesn't bring much to the table. To be honest the characters are hardly visualised so she may be better than her performance in this movie. The jury is out on Ms Tozzi.

Special mention of Asher Keddie (Jennifer) and Peta Wilson (Sherrie) who are both giving solid performances that shine on through the largely unimaginative schlock on display around them.

Paul Mac laid down the score and really nailed things. Mac isn't intrusive, and O'Flaherty does on occasion try to underline a development by going with silence, which adds up to pretty good value on the music front.

Summary Execution

I sat down to watch Beautiful with the notion that it might be Australia's answer to the surprise North American hit Disturbia. Not sure where I got that idea from, but the movie I watched was completely different to the modern update of Rear Window. Must say I managed to get through Beautiful without pausing it, but end of day I was left with a slightly sour taste in my mouth and the feeling that there was a much better movie in there trying to get out.

Beautiful was a straight to DVD effort that generated pretty poor results overall. Unfortunately for the Distributors the Australian market is teeming with local product this year and any movie that doesn't hit the marketing bandwagon early is going to get washed away by the deluge. Tom Boys and Crush are also suffering from this with their respective DVD releases hardly raising a blip on horror fan radars. I wasn't particularly interested in checking out the DVD extras Beautiful boasted so can't report on those.

In 2009 we are getting a lot of dark genre releases, meaning a heck of a lot of choice for fans of Down Under horror flicks. I'm actually going to be hard pressed to cover everything, and some movies might not get a look in till the new year. Which is a round about way of saying there's some better Australian releases currently on DVD shelves waiting on your appreciation. If you happen to run across a copy of Beautiful in the weekly aisle it's probably worth a rental, but don't expect a classic coming at you. Beauty remains in the eye of the beholder, till next time folks.

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

A few too many problems mean this movie is Sunday arvo fodder. Keep an eye on the Director however, expecting much better things from him in the future.