Tomorrow, When The War Began

Tomorrow, When The War Began


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

When you're a teenager there are few things more exciting than getting away from the adult world, taking a trip out into the back of beyond with friends and looking for adventure. The adventures that ensue are rarely anything spectacular, but that's not the point. It's about doing your own thing, taking a few chances and having the opportunity, unobserved, to break a few rules. It's the stuff of many a teen movie or young adult novel, which the early stages of this film - awful expositionary prologue excepted - closely resemble.

Of course, when young people do this in Australia, it doesn't feel quite the same - one can't help but get flashes of Wolf Creek, Rogue or even Picnic At Hanging Rock. Even if all they need to deal with is snakes, young Australians need to be a bit more clued-in than their American counterparts, and that's one of the reasons why this Antipodean version of Red Dawn never quite convinces. Yes, that's right - the real danger here isn't in the outback, it's back home in the village that just happens to represent a major route in from one of Australia's Eastern ports, and that is therefore a prime target for invading forces. At first we don't know who they are or why they're there. All our young heroes see of their arrival is planes flying overhead. Later they return to their houses only to find that nobody's home. Suddenly the streets are full of foreign soldiers and it's all they can do just to stay alive.

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In Red Dawn, our young heroes' decision to battle evil Commies made a sort of sense, if only because we could accept that they were that thoroughly brainwashed. Here, the issues are more complex - Australia is, after all, a spacious and largely prosperous country surrounded by islands whose inhabitants live in desperate poverty. Might they not be entitled to some of its resources? (Curiously, there is no Aboriginal presence in the film at all, so we lose the chance to hear about this from the viewpoint of people whose ancestors faced a similar invasion). This tricky question is raised only briefly and quickly forgotten about, to be smothered under more immediate but less useful questions, such as whether or not it's morally acceptable to kill to stay alive. The resulting angst feels false and awkward, but then, it would be difficult to tell the story effectively with dialogue as clunky as that on display here.

After embarrassments like Australia and G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra, Stuart Beattie demonstrates that he still hasn't learned how to write a half decent script. Surprisingly, his direction isn't nearly as bad, and there are occasional flashes of brilliance here that make the action sequences more gripping than the rest of the film deserves. The young cast, of variable ability, do their best with what they've got. A passing reference to the Ramseys down the street reminds us that heroine Ella (Caitlin Stasey) is a graduate of Neighbours whilst three of the supporting actors come from Home And Away.

Far and away the best is Chris Pang as restaurant owner's son Lee, perhaps cast with the intention of demonstrating that this isn't a race issue (like all those sexy Russian babes in old Commie-bashing movies), but proving capable of much more. Ashleigh Cummings also does a good job, rounding out the character of a good Christian girl and making her one of the most intriguing members of the group, though she has the least to say; but it's not ultimately clear why either character goes along with the increasingly hare-brained schemes of the others. They make good sense as a group, with none of the ridiculous natural leader versus competing would-be alpha male dynamics we see in most survival movies, but we're still left with the problem that their choices are unconvincing.

It's hard to come down too hard on this because it is, ultimately, a film about teenagers, and we shouldn't expect them to get everything right either in their actions or in their analysis. Still, it's reminiscent of Skyline in that one feels one is exploring a potentially interesting scenario in the company of the wrong group of people - there must be others out there having a more interesting time. When they're splashing about in rivers, taking their clothes off or flinging mud at each other these are charming, entertaining kids, but they're never going to be impressive soldiers even if they pull off the occasional impressive stunt - likewise, Beattie's adequate if cheesy teen movie can't stand up to the transformation into Rambo material.

The framing of the whole thing with a video diary motif just makes it worse - hardened warriors, determined to protect their secrets, making a digital record of everything they do. Is this the Western World we are supposed to be rooting for? The final image pretty much sums it up. Being a hero is, apparently, just about choosing the right outfit. Never mind what happens to the neighbours. They've got their TV.

Reviewed on: 04 Apr 2011
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The tale of an unlikely group of high-school heroes who fight for their lives in a war no-one had predicted.
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Director: Stuart Beattie

Writer: John Marsden, Stuart Beattie

Starring: Caitlin Stasey, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Lincoln Lewis, Deniz Akdeniz, Phoebe Tonkin, Chris Pang, Ashleigh Cummings, Andrew Ryan, Colin Friels, Don Halbert, Olivia Pigeot, Stephen Bourke, Kelly Butler, Julia Yon, Dane Carson

Year: 2010

Runtime: 103 minutes

Country: Australia, US


Australia 2011

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