Apr 9, 2011

Tomorrow When the War Began [12A]

Dir: Stuart Beattie
Tomorrow When the War Began is based on the first in a series (oh God, no) of books by Australian author John Marsden. It has a compelling idea at its heart; seven teenagers go for a weekend of camping in a remote part of Australia, when they return to their small town they find it deserted, and soon discover that it, and the rest of Australia, has been captured by an invading army. The group soon determine that, rather than just hiding, they should become guerrilla fighters and join this war.

With that premise, this really should be an engaging movie, mixing slam bang action with a little political context and some well drawn relationships between the small cast. Oh, if only. The main problem with Tomorrow When the War Began is simple; it is excruciatingly dull, and there are no stakes whatsoever. There are two big reasons for this. First of all the threat, despite the fact that the invading army seem to have taken Australia within two days, feels weak. The villains are faceless, have no defined goal or personality, the most we ever learn is that they're Asian. The villains' pursuit of the group seems halfhearted; frequently the teens escape the invading army just by running away, and there seems to be no concerted move against them.

The other thing that undermines the film and lowers the stakes is the character writing; there isn't any. None of these people has a personality and several of them lack even the most basic of traits. We're told by her narration that main character Ellie (played by the unfeasibly pretty, but very flat, Caitlin Stasey) has been lifelong friends with both Corrie (Rachel Hurd Wood) and Homer (Deniz Akendiz), but that connection is never felt in the script or in the performances. Most of the characters can be described with one word: Asian (Chris Pang as Lee); Religious (Ashleigh Cummings as Robyn); Stoner (Andrew Ryan as Chris); Muscles (Akendiz as Homer); Dick (Lincoln Lewis as Kevin) Leader (Stasey as Ellie). The rest... I can't even give that little credit to, Phoebe Tonkin's character Fiona is such a complete void that I forgot she was in the film for about an hour (to be fair so did the film) and Rachel Hurd Wood's Corrie has the personality of driftwood. How can I possibly begin to care about such thin characters? I keep saying it, but since writers don't seem to listen I'll keep repeating myself: If your characters don't feel real to me, I am not going to give two shits what happens to them.

The script issues don't stop there, because these blank characters all speak clangingly awful dialogue. In every conversation, there is at least one horrible line, usually one that 'foreshadows' something that will soon develop in the action. For example, Robyn's repeated refusal to even attempt to harm the invaders because of her faith signposts her actions in the climactic action scene with the subtlety and grace of a tapdancing elephant. For the most part though the dialogue is just bland, with lines that feel completely interchangeable between the various mouthpieces.

There is no one performance here that is either especially good or especially bad as a whole, but everyone has at least one laugh out loud moment that could find itself used in one of the Nostalgia Critic's recurring 'I'm Acting' jokes. Again though, blandness tends to be the order of the day. Caitlin Stasey is memorable for two reasons; she's the lead and... well, just look at her, but otherwise the mass of adequacy makes everyone equally forgettable. It was never going to be on the cards, given the screenplay, for anyone to give a searingly honest and memorable performance here, but what's irritating is that it feels like the cast knew this, and largely decided not to try. Behind the camera, debuting director Stuart Beattie makes a predictably middling job of the lensing. The film does use the stunning locations well, and the lighting is frequently strong, but even at a visual level the action lacks a feeling of immediacy and danger, meaning that this apparently high stakes movie about guerrilla warfare, never raised my pulse.

Despite having a lot to work with, Tomorrow When the War Began manages to be the dullest and most non-descript movie I've seen in some time. It's not awful, it's not good, it's not really anything. There is literally nothing here; no characters, no enemy, no stakes, no tension, no excitement, no context, no metaphor, nothing to invest in, and, criminally, no ending. This is cinematic ephemera, it's so totally devoid of content that I'm not even sure I've seen it.

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