The Australian film industry seems to have a knack for churning out two great kinds of films: campy Abba-inspired comedies, and dark taut thrillers. For the latter, it might be do to the country’s criminal ancestry, but Australian crime films concentrate on the human element, the things that make people evil, or do evil things. Michael Henry’s first feature film Blame, is a taut thriller that uses the isolation of the Australian countryside to create a claustrophobic atmosphere that sends its characters spiralling down through their own consciences and potential for violence.
A piano teacher returns home to his house far from town or any neighbours. Five people dressed in rather formal attire and wearing masks almost immediately attack him. They force him to ingest sleeping pills and wait for him today. It is revealed that they blame him for a young girl’s death, and it seems they will be getting away with their crime. But of course they don’t, and the rest of the film follows them and the victim as the truth is slowly revealed and each realizes that the situation is impossible to escape from.
Henry paces the film brilliantly: the first half explores the why (or really, the supposed why); by the second half the audience is aware that the truth remains a secret to all but two of the characters, and it is just a matter of time before it is revealed. As the tension mounts and the group begins to fracture, Henry tightens the noose around all of their necks. If they kill their victim, they could be caught; if they let him go, he might reveal their identities. The isolated location might seem to give room to move, but such space creates a greater fear: with so much space means time: more time for the victim to convince his captors to let him go; more time for the truth to be revealed; more time for someone, somewhere to know that something is wrong. The house and surrounding land provide corners, corners where Henry places his characters both alone and in pairs, as they become divided about their situation, and unable to sleep, the wait begins for who will crack first.
The cast is superb, never overplaying their parts or overdramatizing the situation, which would be easy to do. Each character is on the edge of a precipice; one false move could bring one of them down, and they just grab someone else to go down with them. Or they might be pushed. This is one of the best first features in recent festival memory.