By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Island holds dark secret.
Simon (Nick Tate) is the new teacher at an elementary school in a seaside community. He soon makes the acquaintance of Sally (Michelle Jarman) who’s one of his pupils and she invites him out to the island of Summerfield where she lives with her mother Jenny (Elizabeth Alexander) and Jenny’s brother David (John Waters). While visiting he accidently hits Sally with his car causing her a broken leg and forcing Simon to visit the residence twice a week to give her personal tutoring. He soon starts up a relationship with Jenny and realizes to his surprise that his predecessor had also dated her, but has now disappeared without a trace. This along with finding out that Sally has a rare blood disorder causes him to do some investigating of his own, but the answers that he finds are both shocking and perplexing.
The story here, at least the main plot point where a new teacher comes in to replace an old one who’s disappeared, is quite similar to Unman, Wittering and Zigo , which was a British thriller that came out in the early 70’s however, this film approaches it in a much different way and has a far more unusual outcome. The pace though is slow and borders on being almost too slow with clues that trickled in too leisurely. The whole blood disorder thing doesn’t even get mentioned until well into the third act and yet for some reason I still found it quite intriguing and was never really bored. Much of the credit goes to the cinematography and the way it captures the picturesque beauty of the landscape, which was shot on-location at both Phillips and Churchill Island, which sit off the coast of Southern Australia.
While the film is for the most part atmospheric I did have a few issues with some of it although not enough to hurt my enjoyment. One problematic element has to do with Simon accidentally running over Sally, who can’t be much more than 10, with his car, but instead of her screaming out in pain and crying, she remains quite calm, which to me was unrealistic. I was also surprised how she continues to like Simon even after the incident and trusts that he didn’t intentionally do it on purpose even though she really hadn’t known him for that long and therefore should’ve been more suspicious and defensive with him than she is. Don’t get me wrong, Sally is one of the best things about the movie and I loved the way she gets played by the young actress Jarman, but I felt there could’ve been a better way that she gets injured, like having her running to meet Simon and accidently stepping into a hole that breaks her ankle/leg, which then would’ve avoided the other issues listed above.
The Simon character is a bit too transparent as he’s middle-aged, but single and with no children. Not that this has to be a problem, but for the viewer to become emotionally connected to him a backstory is generally useful, but here there isn’t any. Having the plumpy lady (Geraldine Turner), who works at the boarding house that he stays at suddenly one morning sneak into his room, disrobe, and then hop into bed with him as he sleeps is a bit weird as the two had never dated, or shown any overt interest in the other and yet Simon and her have instantaneous sex instead of him waking up shocked and disoriented, which is the reaction just about anyone else in that situation would’ve had.
The ending in which Simon finds that Jenny and David, who despite being brother and sister, are having sex together I didn’t find all that surprising as I’d pretty much had been expecting it almost from the beginning. What did surprise me is the way David has an immediate meltdown and kills not only Jenny and Sally, but also himself the minute he realizes they’ve been caught, which to me was too quick of a surrender. They’ve supposedly been doing this for years, so why cave so suddenly? Why not simply move away to another place where their secret isn’t known, or try to blackmail Simon in some way not to tell, or even just deny what Simon tells everyone as it would simply be his word against theirs. I thought David was going to make an attempt to run Simon over with his jeep in order to quiet him. There’s a tracking shot earlier in the film where see things from the vehicle’s perspective, which is driven by David, go into a parking lot where Simon is walking and it gets close to hitting him at that point, so I felt that was a foreshadowing, which is something many directors will do, to what was going to happen at the end. There’s a brief set-up, which makes it seem like David is going to hunt Simon down, which could’ve been exciting, but ultimately it fizzles out.
I was also confused why the former teacher suddenly reappears out of nowhere at the very end. I had presumed, like most viewers probably will, that he had been killed when he found out about Jenny’s and David’s relationship, but apparently that wasn’t the case. Yet having him suddenly get throw-in seemed to serve no real purpose.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: September 30, 1977
Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes
Director: Ken Hannam
Studio: Spectrum Films
Available: DVD (Region 0 Import)
Great article. I’m glad I learned about this film. Never heard of it before but I was able to track a very nice copy down on YouTube for free. It would be nearly impossible to find this film to stream on any of the official streaming services available in thjs country.
Australian cinema during this period is a personal favorite of mine. It’s so bizarre but also so great. These were smaller budget films that utilized their Australian surroundings very well.
I think, by investigating Flynn’s disappearance, Simon has brought about the tragic downfall of David, Jenny and Sally. It was an unintended consequence of his search for the former teacher. This is his realization at the very end of the film.
I think it was almost like a maritime type curse on the family. Perhaps they were damned to stay on the island and shine the light for the sailors. Like something out of Greek or Roman mythology.
Not literally obviously. That is probably stretching it; it’s just my theory. Their tradition had to be protected and upheld. It was their curse. Their punishment.
I very recently watched The Night Digger. Fantastic film I was completely unaware of until a few months ago. It had a very similar feel. Motivations and intentions are never completely made clear. This makes both films even more haunting.
Both also have great creepy scores.
Psychological drama and psychological horror is my favorite. Australia cranked out some real classics in the 1970’s. It’s interesting this film was written for Peter Weir. That makes total sense but this director was very capable, as well.