Eye For Film >> Movies >> Terror Nullius (2018) Film Review
Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson
Over a black screen, an electronic rave horn plays Advance Australia Fair. That darkness is replaced by the opening shot of Wake In Fright, a circle of horizon punctuated only by the single track that connects wherever civilisation begins to wherever civilisation ends. Australians let them all rejoice - for Terror (strobe warning) cum Terra Nullius is very good - perhaps even renowned of all the lands.
Crafted by Soda Jerk, who in Q&A at this the opening gala for the 2019 Glasgow Short Film Festival were eager and happy to credit others too, this is remix film-making at its best - through juxtaposition and contrast and comedy eliciting from a smorgasbord of mostly Australian film not only meanings obfuscated within them but those brought about by contrast. Reappopriation and rebalancing are appropriate in this, an angry examination of what it means to be a person, and an Australian person, and an Australian - as one member of the audience pointed out it serves as a reminder of just how good and broad Australian film is, especially if there are a fair few Kiwis claimed as well.
Identity and its politics are complex, more so when there are territorialities and realities and fundamental aspects of constructedness as is the case but even more so for the island continent that is "the oldest earth on Earth," a place where recorded histories are older than recorded history, where the sets of rules that Soda Jerk had for what they would use meant that 1975's Man From Hong Kong doesn't appear. If it had, it would have been (genius touch this) listed under Gough Whitlam, in credits that split chronology by Prime Minister, which serves as much as a perfect example of the complexity of Australian party politics as of the reminder from an Australian Fire Service to replace your smoke alarm's batteries when the PM changes. It also highlights their commitments, because (as they said in Q&A) as perfect as the first Hong Kong/Australian co-production would be for this tale of making peace with settlement and getting angry about it too, the fact that significant sequences were filmed around Uluru meant it wasn't in the running.
Plenty is though - though it's not intended to redeem (unlike, say, Dragged Across Concrete), Mel Gibson's presence is palpable. The roots of Terror Nullius are a "shitty short work" (their words, thrice, not mine) called Picnic At Wolf Creek, where missing school girls are set upon by the serial killer of that lupine canal and in the end a busload of drag queens are "making roadkill" of the road warrior. As in all their longer works the shout of "Freedom!" from Braveheart appears, in a thicket of sound segments that includes a Wilhelm Scream soundalike (Star Wars is indebted differently to half a thousand other films) and a bit of outdoor bush doof.
This won't be for everyone - I say that more in the interests of completeness than because I care - it was for me, of beauty rich and rare. I can smile and not get affronted by the presence of Skippy The Social Justice Kangaroo, but I also read comic books and enjoyed Captain Marvel. I appreciate the work that was put in to craft a revenge fantasy out of texts as diverse as Crocodile Dundee and the output of Warren Ellis and Nick Cave. It's worth staying to watch the credits, not because that is the least you could do for all the people involved in any production, but because there's so many awesome things in this ensemble. An eagle-eyed question at the GSFF opener was "What was used from The Rocky Horror Picture Show?" - a film whose 'Australian-ness' has more to do perhaps with glamour and intent than geography but it'll do - the clue you'll get is as with any magician, pay close attention to what hands are doing. You'll get revved up by this film, love it or hate it - but I'd hope far more the former.
I mention the Q&A as much because unless you can get your hands on the Blu-ray they describe as "dorky," the stacked illegalities or legal grey areas (based in New York, Soda Jerk have studied various sets of laws) - you're most likely to see this at a festival, and Soda Jerk would hopefully be in attendance. There's a line between Fair Use and parody exemptions that is choppier than sea that girts and harder to navigate than Sauchiehall Street is just now. There's a different space in the landscape, that festival magic. With roots in electronic music remix-film-making is sometimes also a gallery space - Soda Jerk's tribute to Sun-Ra (of the Electronic Arkestra) is playing at the CCA during the short film festival, ASTROBLACK's two-channel four episode is more of the ilk of video art than short film and recommended. If you're wondering the technical difference is that they each draw from a different pool of no money.
This is guerilla filmmaking, joyful, angry, triumphant. Ticket sales saw it bumped to GFT's cinema one, and while the audience didn't quite fill the space the audience's reaction did. Phil Brophy (of Body Melt) who helped with the sound apparently asked if a particular element was meant ironically, but one of the joys of this film is that it's at once arch and earnest - more than ever it's important to remember that it's alright to like things, and by gum I did.
I won't delve too far into controversies around funding of the film - suffice to say that history's page is full of examples of attempts to tame things that ought not be - and I will say that you'll get more if you've a passing familiarity with the fizzogs of Aussie premiers past. Buoyed by beer from Merchant City Brewing I will admit that one of the greatest cultural contributions made from 'neath the radiant Southern Cross is the schooner (and its sculling) but that's mere froth, I'd rather pay homage to the mix of influences that foster in that place a hyper-liminality, one that results in joyful strains of synth stabs.
I will say that it was a great opening for GSFF - playing with short Enough, another film about rage - introduced by Matt Lloyd, it was a great launch for the 12th edition. In a space with corporate sponsors and various funding partners thanked it's still nice to see a film "not made for any boardroom," and this is certainly that. I'll salute the work put in by Dominique and Dan Angelero, and tell a wee story too. Talking about their working practices, Dan described herself as "a wizard at being a robot." She was there talking about the slow and painful process of cutting out characters frame by frame - no advantage as with mash-up culture of a capella versions, Without Me without and all that, Blue Mondays out of one's head - a labourious process which bears glorious fruit in juxtaposition through re-composition. Later in the bar I heard a fellow (and it inevitably was) opining that this was more work than necessary, that you can get a computer to do it, or words to that effect. I must confess I did not challenge him, it's rude to eavesdrop, even with pricks. That's constructed Britishness at play, perhaps, but I had not the courage to combine my anger with what the film is - a reaction, a clarion call, for the weirdos, the marginalised communities, for those who've come across the seas, for those who were there in the before before the before. Soda Jerk have boundless frames to share, for they are young and free. Advance Australian film, my friends, and Terror Nullius see.Reviewed on: 14 Mar 2019