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Hal MacDermot [Film Festival 04.28.09] movie review thriller drama

Year: 2009
Directors: Dean O'Flaherty
Writers: Dean O'Flaherty
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: cyberhal
Rating: 8 out of 10

[Newport Beach Film Festival coverage]

Many of the things I fear and loath about suburban living were nailed beautifully by first time director, and Australian, Dean O’Flaherty. BEAUTIFUL, portrays the thin veneer of affluence covering a writhing mass of pain and suffering. It’s a dark coming of age film in which an obsessive and innocent young boy is sucked up into a twisted world. It’s a journey into urban myth and reality where the guardians perpetuate the distortion. A movie that takes the time to explore the emotional space between people, and between the surface beauty an image and its deeper meaning. I liked the film so much, I even forgave the fact that the Newport Beach festival people made we-the-audience sit through 6 (yes 6) speeches and had the audacity to give me a magnetic toy koala bear.

It seems that all is not well in the leafy Australian suburb of Sunshine Hill. Mrs. Thompson (Deborah Lee Furness) narrates that 3 teenage girls have been abducted and probably murdered, or at least that’s what people say. Then there’s the run down and well dodgy house at number 46. We meet young Danny, something of a social outcast, who reads a book while his classmates play basketball. Danny’s Dad, Alan is a tough and emotionally stunted cop who thinks his son should play more football. Danny carries his camera everywhere and the main object of his visual and hormonal obsession is Suzy, a probably 16 year old Suzy (hi Tahyna Tozzi, please meet Mr. Stanley Kubrick) who sunbathes in a red bikini, lets the garden sprinkler highlight her good points, and loves having her picture taken. With sexual experience dripping off her, Suzy convinces gullible little Danny to investigate and take pictures of the mysterious woman in number 46. If film had been invented in the early 1800s, the poet William Blake would have loved this film. Danny explores his neighborhood, peeking through windows and discovering a secret world nude women doing the ironing, pedophilia, and of course the secrets of number 46. The darkness on your suburban doorstep is not always the one you expect. Urged by Suzy and her kiss, the young lad grows bolder, but is he really growing wiser? In the final scenes, Danny’s journey to manhood takes on shocking and unexpected twists.

The cinematography is reminiscent of Lynch, but not derivative. Flaherty contrasts the dark story drama with loving footage of suburbia’s vibrant flowers and gardens. Dreamy drive by shots of leafy trees and children playing. A close up of squashed wild animals on the road, and then some more shots like that. Flaherty and D.P. Kent Smith really make an excellent team in the visual department. I admire the way the director dares to take time out of the dark action plot to explore the surface beauty (okay, well roadkill’s not that pretty, whatever). The point is, it takes confidence and craft to pause and breathe.

The same confidence comes through in Flaherty’s handling of the characters. They don’t always react right away. When Danny’s stepmom demands answers from him, his Dad just stands there looking like a hard man, and just like her, we don’t know how the man will react, but we do feel violence in the air. It takes a great director and great actors to do that – the performances in Beautiful are strong across the board. Paul Mac’s original composition film score, classic style, skillfully underpins the story telling. I think some people will compare this movie to Disturbia or Lynch’s films. Obviously there are some similarities in subject and style, but Flaherty is an original and I can’t wait for his next. I am comforted and scared to know that Australian suburbia is just as sanity damaging as English suburbia.

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