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By Tom Clift
August 19, 2014


Guilt, obsession and revenge play out amidst the Yarra Valley in this impressive arthouse debut.
By Tom Clift
August 19, 2014

Old-growth forests in Victoria's Yarra Valley provide the breathtaking backdrop for an impressive new arthouse drama. The debut feature from award winning short form and music video director Kasimir Burgess, the fable-like Fell tells the interlocking stories of two devoted Australian fathers whose lives are rocked by unexpected tragedy. Clumsy plot mechanics as well as some freshman affectations count as marks against the movie early on. But Burgess hits his stride in the picture's magnificent second half, delivering a tense and thoughtful look at guilt, obsession and revenge.

Fell begins after a young girl on a camping trip wanders fatally into the path of a semitrailer. The driver, a day-labouring lumberjack named Luke (Daniel Henshall), succumbs to panic and flees the scene, a mistake that eventually earns him a five year stint in prison and leaves his own unborn daughter Madeline without a dad. Meanwhile, the dead girl's father Thomas (ex-rugby league player Matthew Nable) retreats into the forest, where his all-consuming grief slowly festers into a plan for revenge. Emerging under an alias, he takes a job with Luke's old logging crew. And then, for five long years, he waits.

As much as there is to like about Fell, the set-up leaves a lot to be desired. Nable's performance is brimming with palpable anguish, yet you can't help but feel as though there are a couple of major steps missing in his descent into cabin-dwelling seclusion. Natasha Pincus' screenplay is intentionally light on dialogue, and does little to sell such an extreme transformation. The same is true of Thomas' decision to join up with the loggers, a fairly integral plot point that never really manages to convince.

But the movie improves dramatically with Luke's release from prison. After convincing his old boss to let him have his job back, Luke finds himself working closely with Thomas, of whose true identity he remains totally unaware. There's an incredible tension to every scene in which the two are alone together, with the sense that every breath Luke takes could very well be his last. Yet as Thomas becomes an increasingly bigger part of Luke's life, he's forced to confront the reality of what taking the man's life would mean.

The ambiguous atmosphere is heightened by the beautiful locale. Lush green foliage and thick clouds of mist give the film an almost dreamlike quality which is then further enhanced by moments of imagined violence. An indulgence in empty nature shots suggests that Burgess, like a lot of first-time directors, is a little too enamoured with the work of Terrence Malick. Even so, it's hard to deny the extent of talent on display.


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