Imogen McCluskey’s feature debut, Suburban Wildlife, is an enveloping account of millennial despondency. The moment that you realise you’re watching something with key generational insight is as Priscilla Doueihy’s Alice delivers a despondent thought about travelling the world to be enriched. Alice says, to paraphrase, how could I possibly go anywhere my parents haven’t been.
University is over and with Nina (Maddy McWilliam) about to leave Sydney with a one way ticket to London, her friends Alice (Priscilla Doueihy), Nina (Maddy McWilliam) and Kane (Alex King) try to drown out her impending absence in a blur of parties. When the partying can’t seem to satiate them they plan an impulsive rural getaway.
McCluskey is a sensory and instinctive director. There are so many sensual appraisals of performers being in their skin and attempting to access the confidence. McClusky is trying to coax them out of this malaise. In every party you’re drawn into a bewildered sound-scape of thumping drone music enlivened music cues that ride the flutter of physiological reactions to the mind altering substances.
Lucca Barone-Peters is the cinematographer and composes the contours of the characters faces for maximum arousal. Whether by design or ingenuity the camera work brings you inside the fixed enclosures of car winding through the maze of eastern Sydney suburbia. The camera is centrally anchored low in the car to give the impression that it is secretly recording.
McCluskey and co writer Béatrice Barbeau-Scurla add a contemporary specificity to this milestone moment. This generation’s existential crisis is underpinned by fatalist outlook. The inherent tragedy is the ongoing arrested development that it ascribes to the millennial generation. We’re not suspending our disbelief to see James Dean as a teen in Rebel Without a Cause, we’re seeing technically educated but ‘life stupid’ graduates pulsing to pass the prescribed and fleeting single relationships or sexual encounters without the shame of stuttering or stumbling.
The whole cohort of actors surrender to being exposed (figuratively). Priscilla Doueihy’s Alice deeply yearns for connection in places that assure rapid exit. Doueihy’s performance and nihilism is perhaps the scariest because she’s just so damned casual about the dreary slog of the rest of this life. Alex King’s Kane, the only friend in their group that hasn’t attended University, has spent his time in retail stacking shelves and rehearsing the most adventurous and interesting escape. King is like a plant outgrowing its pot as he tries to reconcile the fantasy with the reality of his life. Hannah Lehmann’s Louise lacks confidence in her physical appeal to the point that she’s retreated into the vacuum of maternal care for the friend group. Lehmann’s inexperience here, intended or otherwise, helps. Maddy McWilliam’s Nina is charged like a magnet, her blooming sexuality seems to have awakened and flicked on the ‘discoverable’ setting.
Suburban Wildlife may be a debut, but it’s one filled with promise; plying great craft while dwelling in the frustrations and the potentially disastrous actions of the directionless.
★★ and a half/★★★★
BLAKE HOWARD IS A FILM CRITIC & THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF/CO-FOUNDER OF AUSTRALIAN FILM BLOG GRAFFITI WITH PUNCTUATION . BLAKE IS THE HOST OF THE ONE HEAT MINUTE PODCAST. BLAKE IS ALSO A MEMBER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS ONLINE FILM CRITIC SOCIETY (AND A MEMBER OF THE GOVERNING COMMITTEE), IS A CO-HOST OF GAGGLE OF GEEKS ON SYDNEY'S 2SER COMMUNITY RADIO, A COLUMNIST AT THE AUSTRALIAN ONLINE INSTITUTION DARK HORIZONS AND SWAYS THE TOMATO METER WITH ROTTEN TOMATOES APPROVED REVIEWS.