The new Australian indie thriller The Day of the Broken – previewed yesterday at Elsternwick’s Classic Cinema – uncovers the Melbourne that you don’t want to think about. It’s a city where men and women take the law into their own hands, where people have scores to settle, where no one escapes their demons.
This is the first feature film by Counterpunch Productions – a partnership of writer/director Simon J. Dutton and producer Angela Pippos. Satisfied that their screenplay would make a successful feature, the pair decided to bring it to life themselves rather than passing it on to another company.
What has resulted is a fiercely uncompromising, sharply intelligent thriller. After a young girl is murdered in the most abhorrent way, her mother’s brother-in-law sets off on a 24-hour manhunt, plunging head-first into St Kilda’s seething criminal underbelly.
The Day of the Broken could have been a plodding exercise in low-life violence, but the cleverly constructed plot keeps us guessing who the killer is until the very end. Multiple storylines unfold slowly and separately, with connections remaining unclear for a large proportion of the film. It’s a risky decision, but it makes for gripping viewing.
It’s a strange feeling to watch horrible nerve-wracking events take place in so many familiar locations. Gangsters interrogate their victims in graffitied laneways, a tram rolls by in the background, a woman drinks alone in a St Kilda dive bar. The soundtrack also features music from two local bands – The Maryhillbillys and Burn in Hell. Director Simon J. Dutton takes care to remind us that a hell of a lot more is going on under our radar than we know.
In all this darkness, The Day of the Broken mixes despair with hope, guilt with innocence, grittiness with comedy. We’re forced to look between the black/white, good/bad Hollywood conventions. It’s the cast that really bring these ideas to life, and the standout performers are comedians Greg Fleet as existentialist junkie Bob, and Lawrence Mooney as a tormented psychologist’s patient. Can a drug addict who calls himself “the king of bullshit” really be the wisest person of all?
While the plot and the characters stay strong until the end, Dutton’s script could do without being quite so heavy handed. It’s clear just how horrible the murders are without being constantly reminded, and some of the crassness and bubbling blood feels extreme for the sake of shock value.
That said, it’s encouraging to see a new independent Australian feature that defies convention, and largely, makes it work. Whether you find it confronting, funny, or maybe a little sickening, it’s likely that The Day of the Broken will stay with you well after you leave the cinema.
The Day of the Broken opens Friday March 14, showing at Classic Cinema.
Written by Rose Johnstone