Coffin Rock

Coffin Rock


Reviewed by: Jeff Robson

In the old days you knew what you were getting with a horror film: old dark houses or spooky castles, supernatural monsters and a refreshingly escapist sense that, no matter how frightening, it could never really happen.

Then Hitchcock’s Psycho came along, followed by a rash of Seventies movies inspired by true-life murders (the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre being the most notorious) exploring the idea that real monsters are among us – and may even initially appear to be just like us. It’s an idea that taps into an arguably even more primal fear than that of the supernatural – few people nowadays believe in vampires or werewolves but evidence that murderous psychopaths do, indeed, exist appears in the news on a regular basis.

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One of the most striking examples of the genre in recent times was Wolf Creek, which skilfully exploited the remote vastness of the Australian landscape and the gruesome details of several true-life ‘backpacker murder’ cases to produce a classic ‘it could happen to you’ scenario. One of the producers, David Lightfoot, also shares a production credit on Coffin Rock. But the danger of making a horror film derived from the mundane is that you end up with a mundane horror film. And the result here is a garbled, unsatisfying mess that lacks any credibility or genuine suspense and is one of the longest 89 minutes I’ve ever spent in a cinema.

It’s all the more disappointing because the premise has genuine potential. Rob (Robert Taylor) and Jess (Lisa Chappell) live in a small fishing community on the South Australia coast. They have been trying for a baby for years and Jess is becoming increasingly desperate. After a row with Rob, she goes on a drunken night out which ends in an instantly-regretted fling with Evan (Sam Parsonson) a handsome young stranger recently arrived in town. It’s obvious from the start that Evan is several prawns short of a barbie; but whatever his problems, it seems that firing blanks isn’t one of them and Jess finds herself pregnant. When he finds out, Evan is determined that Jess tells Rob the truth – and it soon becomes apparent that he is dangerously obsessed both with her and with the idea of being a father. Jess’s refusal to acknowledge their ‘relationship’ prompts an extreme – and violent – reaction...

It’s a believable scenario and could have produced a taut, gripping 90-minuter. But debut director Glasson squanders every opportunity to build suspense or any atmosphere of disquiet. A plot strand adding an extra dimension to the relationship between Evan and Jess would have made an excellent last-minute reveal and created a sense of mystery around Evan’s character, but is simply stated baldly far too early on. It’s symptomatic of the entire narrative. Evan is presented from the start as such a cartoon psycho, complete with sudden mood swings, creepily baby-faced smile and habit of appearing from nowhere, that you doubt any woman (even one in drunken extremis) would ever choose him for a one-night stand. Or that when he turns nasty, they would hesitate for one second before calling the police and taking out a restraining order quicker than you can say ‘Norman Bates’.

Instead, Jess frequently puts herself in harm’s way by confronting Evan on her own. The townsfolk seem utterly oblivious to the nutjob in their midst and the law enforcement agencies are nowhere to be seen. Despite a short running time, the film is packed with unnecessary sequences demonstrating exactly what a fruit loop Evan is, and how he got that way. The key to horror films like this working is to keep up a relentless momentum and an unnerving sense that, in the end, there’s no explanation for why these human monsters act like this. Naturally there’s a de rigeur succession of gruesome moments involving death/torture by household implement and a climactic abduction/chase sequence that seems to go on for ever – but not in a good ‘trapped in a nightmare’ way; simply a ‘when is this film going to end’ way.

Glasson does conjure up the bleak, forbidding atmosphere of the windswept, wintry South Australia coast with some skill and he’s to be congratulated for eschewing the ‘sunshine paradise’ or ‘desolate outback’ clichés one often finds in the depictions of God’s Own Country. But that in itself acts against the film’s internal logic. In Wolf Creek the victims were literally miles from anywhere, but it’s hard to believe that Jess and Bob’s town doesn’t stretch to at least one policeman – or that the close-knit locals wouldn’t gang up on any interloper causing trouble and run him out on a rail.

The three principals do their best with their one-dimensional parts – mass of raging hormones, long-suffering good bloke and damaged child-man respectively – and there’s a good comic turn from Terry Camilleri (Napoleon in Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure, trivia fans) as Rob’s homophobic fishing buddy. But when you find yourself in the middle of a horror thriller musing on how old a supporting actor is looking these days, you know this is a film in far more trouble than its characters. Coffin Rock could have been an interesting addition to an interesting genre; instead it simply reminds you of other, far better, movies.

Reviewed on: 12 Oct 2009
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Coffin Rock packshot
A psychopath targets a woman who is seeking fertility treatment.
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Director: Rupert Glasson

Starring: Lisa Chappell, Terry Camilleri, Sam Parsonson, Robert Taylor, Geoff Morrell

Year: 2009

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: Australia

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