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CIFF: Blame (2010) ****

October 12, 2010

written by: Michael Henry
produced by: Ryan Hodgson, Melissa Kelly & Michael Robinson
directed by: Michael Henry
89 min.
U.S. release date: unknown (premiered at the Toronto International Film Fest on September, 12, 2010)
We own blame when we admit our culpability of a misdeed, and then try to move on with our lives. We blame someone for a terrible occurence as a swell of emotional rage, grief, and pain builds, without knowing all the facts. One blame is difficult to live with while the other can lead to a place of amoral deliberation.  In writer/director Michael Henry’s excellent feature debut, both approaches are explored and no one is blameless. It’s hard not to think of a more apt title for this taut Australian thriller. In fact, what transpires here makes us examine the word all the more and even consider how it affects out lives, at least it did for me. 
As the film opens, we are introduced to a handsome middle-aged music teacher (Damian de Montemas), driving to his remote country home with his companion, a German Shephard named Zac. He takes some grocery bags in, leaves some in his jeep, enters his quiet home and upon hearing something from the front door, he is suddenly attacked by two men in ski masks. After a chase outside and much struggle, he is wrestled him down to the ground, put a ski mask over his head, and tie him to a chair.
We then see others join the attackers, two women also wearing ski masks and it becomes clear that they are all friends and they are well-dressed. What do they want with this man and where did they come from? What did this man do?
We soon learn that these four friends (Sophie Lowe, Kestie Morassi, Simon Stone, and Ashley Zuckerman) and one reluctant participant (Mark Leonard Winter) plan on killing this man, Bernard, and making it look like a suicide. They force sleeping pills down the helpless teacher’s throat and lay out his body at the foot of his bed. One writes a suicide letter on a laptop in Bernard’s office, as another ties Zac outside and muzzles his mouth. After wiping everything down, the five friends drive away from what the perceive as the perfect murder.
Then one of them realizes that they left their cell phone behind. They have no choice but to go back and retrieve it. Upon arriving, they find Bernard missing. They now must deal with a botched attack and a groggy, scared victim who begins to fight for his life.
The fact that these are not professional killers, that they are five friends who blame the death of another friend on this teacher, makes them no less dangerous. It’s quite the opposite as the harrowing events unfold, the captors find lose themselves in an inescapable journey. It is that place of no return that reveals their own lies, secrets, and doubts which lead them to question their motives.
It is a credit to Henry’s screenwriting and camerawork that even though there are slight moments of predictability, his story has your attention at every turn. As certain truths are carefully revealed, the consequences and inevitable repercussions become even more grave than the preceding events. This is a film that slowly unveils a clever and lean story that fortunately doesn’t bother with condescending exposition.  Like the best thrillers, the situations for the characters involved isn’t always as they perceive them to be and for the audience, thankfully, the less you know going in the better.
Since this is a film that revolves around amateur vigilantism which takes place in one day, it is understandable that little time is made for any indepth characterization. Still, these actors really commit to their roles, taking the short time they are given to convincingly portray flawed people trapped in their own actions. No character is lost or wasted either, which again is attributed to a lean script as well as a talented cast. Even characters like a delivery man or Bernard’s dog (that could seem ancillary in any other movie) play key roles in building a distinct suspense.  I wouldn’t have wanted any more or any less characterization in what feels like a real-time sequence of events.
Organic and intense, “Blame” is currently making its way through various film festivals, in hopes of getting picked up by a studio for distribution, like so many other films. With the amount of lousy films I see in a year, I have to believe that something this original and refreshingly intelligent will get snatched by a studio that will wisely market it. Maybe with the spotlight on so many great indie films from Australia, the odds are in this film’s favor. It’s definitely one to put on your film radar. Whatever year it gets released, I will not forget to add it to my year-end “Best of” list.


The 46th annual Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) runs from October 7-21.  Check here for more information.


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