Director: Abe Forsythe
Starring: Lincoln Younes, Rahel Romahn & Michael Denkha
In 2010, chaotic maverick of British comedy Chris Morris released his directorial debut, Four Lions to an uncomfortable yet laudatory reception. The blackest of black comedy, the film followed a group of five home-grown jihadists bent on martyring themselves at the London Marathon, and mortified an audience unwilling to take a good hard look at the film’s reflection on their own society. Until I saw Abe Forsythe’s Down Under, Four Lions was my personal record holder for the most uncomfortable laughs per minute. It’s hard to find a reviewer anywhere who doesn’t in some way reference the similarities and shared strengths of the two racially charged extravaganzas (barring one particularly dire Sunday Times reviewer, who didn’t seem to find reality that amusing).
I’ll spoil the opening for you – archival footage of the Cronulla riots set to a particularly cheerful rendition of “We Wish you a Merry Christmas”. Four minutes of unflinching nationalism is enough to make even the most passionate patriot wince a little, and acts as a perfect setup for what Forsythe has in store for his audience.
The film takes two rival gangs – the ‘Skips’ and the ‘Lebs’, and pits them against each other in the immediate aftermath of the riots. Neither side seems to have much of a game plan outside marching down to Cronulla beach and beating the shit out of each other, with the Skips optimistically looking to drive the Lebanese out of town, while the Lebs mostly seem to be looking for a bit of post-riot revenge.
The film gives us a little cause for moral celebration in the characters of Hassim, who works in a chicken shop and is totally disinterested in the idea of beating the shit out of the native Cronullans, and ‘Shit-Stick’, a harmless Blockbuster employee who only wants to smoke bongs and teach his cousin Evan, who has Down syndrome, how to drive. Soon however, they too get sucked into the cesspool of racial hatred by their friends and family. Nick, Hassim’s best friend, is an aggressive heap of fuckwittery, champing at the bit to do some damage to pretty much anyone or anything. Yet over the course of the film, he demonstrates that this menace is not born out of cultural loyalty (the only thing that lends any of the characters’ actions any semblance of justification), but rather a total commitment to being a dickhead of the same ilk we observe on the other side of the fence. Jason, Nick’s equivalent on the Skips side, is like the human personification of a “Such is Life’ tattoo. Chauvinistic, bullying and obliviously partial to a kebab, his larger-than-life characterisation is just a grim reminder that he isn’t that much larger than life. Although he acts as an amalgamation of ‘true-blue Aussie patriot’ stereotypes, he’s never as unbelievable as one would hope.
I’m hoping there’ll be a big turnout to Down Under over its run. I think it’s an important film, and I don’t mean that in a wanky ‘holier-than-thou’ way. In the same way that Four Lions is a touching satire of both the radical and the radicalised, Down Under is an indictment of pretty much everyone featured in the film – from the unintentional bystanders who get swept up in the violence, to the instigators and the revellers. It would have been much too easy to set up one side as a straw man. Instead, Forsythe produces the most nuanced simultaneous critique of nationalism and idealistic multiculturalism that we’re likely to see for some time. Do yourself a favour and give it a watch.
Words by Hugh Hutchison