★★★★ - STUFF
- A clever, likeable and occasionally inspired Kiwi black comedy -
As young men in small towns with tiny populations have for millennia, Sean is despairingly looking for love.
However, the prospects of any swipe-right action on his profile video seem remote at best. Not because Sean doesn't appear to be a perfectly lovely, modest, humble and pleasant young man.
Nope. It's just that your chances of any romance in a small town are surely catastrophically reduced if nearly every other person you know firmly believes that you murdered your entire family in cold blood a few years back and that, just because a jury couldn't find you guilty, that doesn't mean you didn't do it.
David White's debut feature This Town treads some pretty nettlesome recent New Zealand history for its inspirations, and I think it is likely to be a fairly polarising movie. Which, frankly, is a great thing. Yes, there will the “too soon” crowd, but I'm going to go with the theory that everything has got a comedy in it if you approach it the right way, and This Town is nothing if not a crowdpleaser.
As Sean settles into an unlikely romance with the almost-too-sweet-to-be-true Casey, the town rise up in protest, with a demolition derby that Sean rashly enters turning into a gladiatorial death-match, complete with a baying mob screaming “Kill Him” at their sons and darlings behind the wheels of the other cars.
Leading the charge against Sean is the investigating officer who failed to put him behind bars when he was first arrested, she – Pam – has retired from the force and is now running a bedraggled petting zoo, complete with llamas, a driving range and the pokiest looking water-slide this side of the Ruamāhanga.
So, will Sean get his comeuppance, or will his innocence be properly proven at last? Will true love come out on top, or will the driven and ferocious Pam finally get her man?
This Town doesn't have any outrageous narrative curveballs to throw, but it does chart a likeable and often laugh-out-loud path to an ever-so-slightly rushed ending.
Along the way we meet a decent selection of small-town archetypes, all with pitch-perfect dialogue and some likeably empathetic treatment from White and co-writer Henry Feltham's script. For a comedy with a mass murder at its centre, This Town is a surprisingly gentle and kind-hearted tale.
With White taking the lead as the hapless, but decent Sean, Alice May Connolly (Daffodils) understated and quietly superb as Casey, and Robyn Malcolm and Rima Te Wiata leading a ridiculously strong field of support players, This Town has got acting fire-power the producers of some far better-resourced local films would have killed for.
Cinematographer Adam Luxton (On an Unknown Beach) deploys his resources well, presenting much of This Town as a series of Wes Anderson-esque static frames, but happy to get his grips dirty for the demolition derby and hen's night sequences, among others.
Underneath it all, a soundtrack from The Phoenix Foundation does all sorts of good things, sending familiar tunes into fresh contexts and doing a lot to deliver the faint whiff of menace and unease that haunts a few of the film's best moments.
This Town is a clever, likeable, well-written and played, and occasionally inspired film. In a year in which buying local matters more than ever, I reckon you'll be happy you bought into it.
- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF
This Town is now playing at Light House Cinema!