I remember when Zombieland first came out, people were calling it America’s answer to Shaun of the Dead . . . as if Shaun of the Dead had been some kind of challenge, a war cry from England screaming, “Beat that, fuckers!” You see this kind of thing all the time in advertising, though, even in TV — if BBC America promos are to be believed, The Hour isn’t just England’s Mad Men; it’s BETTER.
So how does the Australian Red Dawn fare?
Well, truth is, I barely remember the original Red Dawn at all, although I’ve never been under the impression that it (or its recently released remake) is anything but a big pile of cheese. However, I’d be surprised if Tomorrow, When the War Began can claim to being much better.
Seven teenagers go camping for a week in Hell. (That’s not a joke. Apparently, that’s just what the place is called.) When they come back, they discover that their home has been invaded by an (unnamed) foreign country, and it’s up to them to band together and fight back.
1. Tomorrow, When the War Began is based on an Australian YA series. I didn’t know that going in, but I figured it out during this exchange:
Ellie: “Good book?”
Corrie: “Better than the movie.”
Ellie: “Yeah, books usually are.”
Ugh. SHUT UP, WRITERS. Seriously.
2. Actually, SHUT UP, WRITERS kind of sums up my whole problem with this movie. The acting’s decent enough, and I like the basic idea of the story, but the writers tackle their material with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the face. And that’s coming from me — straightforward is the kind word people use when it comes to describing my prose.
A. In one scene, two of the teenagers talk about how they need to grow up to face what’s coming . . . while sitting in their own childhood treehouse. UGH.
B. In another scene, someone is careful to mention that this one bridge is the only way the enemy troops can get through to town. I’m like, Got it. That bridge needs to go. Later, someone mentions a group of kids who died trying to blow up the bridge. I’m like, Yes, I GOT it. We’re going to try and blow up the bridge at the end of the movie. Twenty minutes later, one of the kids tells another kid why the bridge is so important. I’m like, Oh my GOD, just shut up and BLOW THE FUCKING BRIDGE ALREADY.
C. Any lines like this: “We were so innocent back then. Now I . . . I feel like we were innocent right up until yesterday. God, we didn’t believe in Santa Claus or anything like that. But no, we believed in other fantasies. We believed that we were safe. Guess that was the biggest fantasy of them all.”
Seriously. You are KILLING me right now.
D. The whole voiceover. Just shoot it; kill it; make it die.
3. Despite the fact that this movie has some of the most blatantly obvious and awful dialogue in the whole world, though, it’s not entirely without merit. The kids all begin as pretty basic stereotypes (the Screw Up, the Religious Girl, The Asshole Jock, etc) but almost all of them have little moments to show either some depth or at least potential nuance in their character. Admittedly, this isn’t always successful — Asshole Jock’s whole arc is pretty sad — but a few of the actors make it work. Specifically . . .
3A. Homer (Deniz Akdeniz)
Homer’s the proverbial screw-up who kind of becomes the group leader when the shit hits the fan. The main problem with this is how fast it happens. I mean, the whole point of a story like this is to watch these kids grow out of their respective stereotypes and into adults with responsibilities — which is a cool idea, except that Homer’s a class clown in one scene and a gung ho leader the next. The problem isn’t performance — I find Akdeniz believable enough — but the writing doesn’t do him any favors. (Especially when the protagonist actually has to tell him, “You’re changing,” in case his story arc was too subtle. Oy.)
Homer’s best moment, of course, is early on, when there’s a snake slithering around in a sleeping bag. One of the girls tells him to “shake it.” Homer, quite naturally, shakes his ass. Doesn’t look bad doing it, either.
3B. Fiona (Phoebe Tonkin)
Fiona is the pretty girl, you know, the one who wears makeup while camping, and you expect her to be really stupid and bitchy, but she’s actually pretty funny. She does have a couple of dumb moments, but for the most part she’s pretty likable, even when she’s a little clueless. It’s kind of nice to see that the hot, rich, girly girl doesn’t have to be a total bitch for once.
Also, for you closet Secret Circle fans out there? Phoebe Tonkin also played Faye, the rebel witch.
There’s something about this actress that I just find appealing. (I mean, other than the fact that she’s ridiculously hot. Especially with the brown hair.)
3C. Robyn (Ashleigh Cummings)
Robyn is the religious girl in the group, and while her arc unfolds in the most obvious, step-by-step way . . . Cummings still does a pretty good job with it. The character could easily have been played as shrieky and righteous (or simply as absurdly naive), but Cummings keeps her relatively likable. Again, I’d credit this to acting, not writing. There’s not much in the way of actual character on the page, not for her.
(Although I must mention that she has asthma. Because of course it’s the sweet, quiet one that has asthma. Well, at least she isn’t using her inhaler in every other scene like in, say, The Goonies.
4. The actress who probably has the most to work with is Caitlin Stasey, who plays Ellie, our protagonist. Naturally, she’s pretty much the most annoying person in the group.
To be fair, it’s not all Stasey’s fault. She actually has some good moments — there’s one scene, in particular, where Ellie goes just a tiny bit crazy due to one, serious sleep deprivation, two, some asshat behaving like an asshat, and three, all the general trauma all around them. Stasey’s decent in the scene, and it’s a good character moment, but it’s unfortunately one of the only really good character moments in the whole movie. For the most part, Ellie teeters to the irritating side of the Righteous, Bitchy Heroine, with an unconvincing love story and a “blood on my hands” speech to boot. It’s unfortunate.
5. Also? In the beginning of the movie, Ellie actually says, “What’s the worst that can happen?”
I think there should be a new rule that anyone who ever says this should get slapped across the face.
6. Finally, let’s say you and your friends need to make it out of town without enemy forces spotting you, which is easier said than done when you can’t walk. The heroine’s brilliant plan is to steal a big ass front loader cause, if you can’t sneak, you might as well make as much noise as humanely possible, right? (I’m still not convinced sneaking was out of the picture here, and a front loader, while probably better than a Mini Cooper, is not quite the unstoppable tank that the movie clearly wants me to think it is. I mean, you can still totally get shot through the windshield. But whatevs.)
Point is: if you’re going to be hanging in the “loader” part of the front-loader, here’s a tip: stop sitting up to check out what’s going on and keep your fucking head down while people are SHOOTING at you. For Christ’s sake.
Just about everything else I want to say includes spoilers, unfortunately, so for those who are not frightened of such things, come along.
First, let’s begin by saying that I’ve found another Netflix Summary Fail:
After spending a holiday in the countryside, seven Australian teens return home to find that their country has been invaded by a foreign power. With the help of another local, the kids band together to become guerrillas and rescue their families.
Now, seven kids do go away camping and come back to find that their country has been invaded. And they do band together with another (entirely pointless) character to become guerrillas. What they emphatically do not do, however, is rescue their families. What’s more — they actually choose not to rescue their families in favor of blowing up the All Important Bridge. I mean, I’m sure the plan is to eventually try and free their parents and all, but that rescue does not take place in this movie.
I ask again: how do you get the job of writing summaries for Netflix, anyway?
Oh, and while I’m thinking about it, that entirely pointless character?
He’s some stoner who’s just been hanging out in his house during this whole invasion. Ellie has her near-homicidal breakdown when she discovers the stoner kid has fallen asleep on watch, leaving them all vulnerable. Kind of awesomely, she comes pretty close to killing him before the others (using their let’s-talk-slowly-to-the-crazy-person voices) talk her down. But while I very much like this scene, I almost wish the kid who fell asleep on watch had been almost anybody else in the group — the stoner kid isn’t introduced until the movie’s at least halfway over, and other than just generally being annoying, he makes no real impact on the rest of the story. If it had to be this guy, then they needed to make him a lot more interesting.
Anyway, after Ellie sleeps for, like, sixteen hours, the kids go blow up the All Important Bridge. In doing so, Religious Robyn is predictably forced to kill someone to save Ellie and Fiona’s lives. (She absolutely refused to do it before — making this a Found the Will to Kill movie!) And again, I actually really like how the actress plays the moment — even the storyline itself isn’t so bad conceptually — but it’s just so, SO obvious. From the second Religious Robyn declares that she won’t kill people, you’re pretty much just counting down the seconds until she, in fact, has to kill someone.
About the only surprise this movie has to offer, really, is that Dead Meat Corrie doesn’t actually die.
Of all the actors in this movie, Rachel Hurd-Wood might have the least to actually work with. She’s Corrie’s BFF, all sweetness and pinky-swears, and from almost the very second I saw her, I had her slated for death. (It was the VO that did it. Ellie tells us that Corrie’s her best mate — which, not exactly news — and I was just like, okay, so when do we kill off Corrie? Seriously, it was so obvious.)
And I wasn’t entirely wrong — Corrie is the one who gets shot. She has to stay behind and turn herself in to enemy forces if she wants a chance to survive. Kevin, her meathead/coward boyfriend, also completes his flat-as-a-pancake arc when he decides to also stay behind because he realizes he loves her. (Earlier in the movie when they were all being chased, Kevin ran away, leaving Corrie and Ellie behind. Personally, I don’t know if I’d be offended that my boyfriend didn’t wait for me — the survival instinct is strong, after all — but I would be mildly peeved if he left me in the dust but was willing to run back for his damn dog. The most realistic love story in this whole movie is the tale of Kevin and his dog.)
The movie ends as it began — with Ellie speechifying about how this was just the beginning, how they’re going to keep fighting, win the war, blah, blah, blah. And, well. I guess that’s about it.
There’s decent material to work with here and a few good scenes that are enjoyable to watch, but the writers just won’t shut up, not for one damn second. Seriously, people. You don’t have to show me a girl confessing to another girl about having sex with her boyfriend, enacting a pinkie swear to secrecy — which they apparently haven’t done since they were seven — and then have a voiceover explaining that the two are best friends. Yes, I UNDERSTAND.
Phoebe Tonkin. Mostly because she’s fun.
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
Also, it’s a good idea to shut off the CB during girl talk so that other people in the group won’t overhear your private conversations. I mean, that makes sense — that’s good, I’ve-watched-way-too-many-sitcoms-for-my-life-to-become-one logic. But then, maybe having girl talk during dangerous missions to blow up All Important Bridges is a bad idea in the first place, huh? Because about the worst time we can turn off our radios is when we’re in deadly situations where we can’t hear the warnings about enemy forces heading our way.