“The Second," the first original Australian film for streaming service STAN, is a superior mystery thriller. Director Mairi Cameron creates an prestige aesthetic that affects a sense of haunting isolation, and writer Stephen Lance's script manipulates time and memory to weave a disturbing tale of creation. What secrets are entangled in this fiction?
When an author (Rachael Blake) struggles to deliver her much anticipated second novel, she and her publisher lover (Vince Colosimo) takes a trip back to her hometown for inspiration. In the isolation of her opulent family home, in the shadow of her famous and father's memory, she gets a call from the ghost of best friend's past (Susie Porter) who brings the baggage of their childhood along for the stay. Hovering on the deserted roads is the disgruntled farmer (Martin Sacks), a figure from their past who seems to have been waiting for their return.
The Victorian architecture in the writer's family home takes on a whole dimension. Cameron photographs this opulent rural home so that it feels like a hybrid of a luxury country escape and an estate in a Hammer horror movie. When this vibrant setting is not shrouded in the darkness of a rain-drenched moor, you would think that the foreboding would diminish. The heat instead creates tension for the characters yearning for a breeze. Beyond the affluent house and the well-watered gardens, the drought-stricken vistas abound. Cinematographer Mark Wareham (the man pointing the camera in films like Jasper Jones, and Secret City) manipulates space, so there's a living quality to the inanimate. Refracting light in empty windows to make it seem like there are ghostly presences in the home, wandering through tunnel-like hallways in a way that feels like they breathe.
Lance's script is particularly good at maintaining coherence while the performers (and the audience) must contend without a timepiece or a calendar to reset your 'true north' in the film. The editing from Steve Cooper walks the tightrope between disorientation and displacement that makes you encroach on the edge of your seat.
Rachael Blake's rich and affecting performance is one of contrast. In some scenes, you're shaken by her deceptive calculation. In others, you're taken behind the curtain of her writing process. She's either channelling events in the film out of her imagination or reassembling what's happening into a more elaborate fiction. Colosimo plays Blake's publisher and lover. The former ferocious sex symbol has settled into a corporate dad-bod. He's giving off some serious Nick Nolte in “Cape Fear” vibes. We're meant to believe that he's a pacifist - those hints of Nolte have your eyes peeled for an explosion. Susie Porter's muse is more than meets the eye. At first glance, she's an archetype of the girl whose early sexual awakening leads her down a path littered with bad decisions. Once “The Second” ramps up, past revelations make you ask if she's been conditioned to instigate chaos.
“The Second” is such an apt title. On the surface, it gets its title from this look inside the maddening pressure of a salacious writers retreat during the creation of a second novel. I prefer to think that it refers to that feeling to reflexively watch it again, at least once when the credits roll.
Directed by: Mairi Cameron
Written by: Stephen Lance
Rachel Blake - The Writer
Susie Porter - The Muse
Vince Colosimo - The Publisher
Martin Sacks - The Brother
Cinematographer: Mark Wareham (Jasper Jones, Don't Tell, Secret City, Felony)
Editing: Steve Cooper
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.