Mist fills the morning air from sprinklers soaking a manicured lawn. It’s a new day and a teenage girl reluctantly gets into a car. As the urban landscape gives way to the rural, it’s a new start for a family of three. The girl, Amy (Sara West), sticks her finger up at a passing car from the back seat, indicating there may be a bit more going on here than just reluctance.
Their destination is a house in the country designed by the father (Benjamin Winspear), and it’s an impressive combination of modern luxury hiding within the exterior of a farm shed. Architects may well be the Gods of the worlds they create, but not everything in real life can be drawn so exactly and Amy seems prone to colour outside the lines. Her mother, Michelle (Felicity Price), is the moderating voice in the family and the thriller table is set when local girl Chloe (Samara Weaving) comes to the door, offering a welcome and her cleaning services.
Things look promising right from the start. Director/writer Fin Edquist establishes a strong visual style and has the confidence not to rush the set up. The two leads are convincing seventeen year olds and there is no sense of the city-verse-country cringe that Australian movies sometimes lean on. They are playing this one dead straight.
The title Bad Girl is purposely singular, so it doesn’t take a huge amount of deduction to determine that things may not be as they seem on the surface, but to say anymore would be to undo the joy of discovery. What can be said without fear of spoiling is that if Amy is a rebel in search of a cause, Chloe provides her one. Both West and Weaving have meaty roles and have the opportunity to display their range, both showing enough to indicate we’ll be seeing plenty more of them in years to come.
West is already displaying chameleon qualities, shifting between the role of Liza Minnelli in Peter Allen: Not the Boy Next Door to being chronically bookish in her stint on Ash vs Evil Dead next to Bruce Campbell. Here she anchors the movie and pulls off teenage angst without it being a cliché, and provides the emotional centre to support the rest of the action. This will likely be seen as a footnote in the careers of West and Weaving. It’s entirely possible that it might only receive the viewing it truly deserves once one or both break out and new fans search their back catalogues; this may well be their Dead Calm.
There could be some questions asked of character motivation in the middle sections, but the film ends up nicely delivering the swings and turns you’d expect, and while being original, nods knowingly towards Single White Female, The Good Son and somehow feels like a younger cousin to Joel Edgerton’s The Gift (maybe it’s that house). It all builds to an effectively tense climax, thanks in no small part to the Warren Ellis (The Road, Lawless, Hell or High Water) score and slick editing by Simon Njoo (The Babadook).
At a tight 87 minutes, Bad Girl plays within the thriller genre nicely. While this is an undeniably small movie, Edquist has choreographed a high-quality production.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10
••••• Screening at Mardi Gras Film Festival 2017 •••••
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