Film: Acolytes – Laneway

LANEWAY – Melbourne Talks Melbourne
by Keith Harwood

There’s no great history of traditional, mainstream genre films in Australia. For the brave few who do try, there will always be comparisons to the Hollywood movies that came before. John Hewitt’s thriller Acolytes will probably suffer the same fate, but, comparisons aside, the film does exactly what you would hope a thriller would do – it frightens.

Partly inspired by the crimes of Western Australian serial killers David and Catherine Birnie, the film follows the lives of James, Mark and Chasley, three teenagers living in the outer fringe of Brisbane suburbia. It’s a fearful setting that juxtaposes the apparent safety of a well-manicured neighborhood with the haunting remoteness of a local pine plantation.

Afflicted by years of suffering at the hands of local bully Gary Parker, Mark and James happen upon an unlikely opportunity for vengeance. Discovering the body of a Canadian backpacker and eventually the identity of the killer, the pair begin to flirt with the idea that the killer’s fate is now in their hands. James convinces Mark and Chasley that the power they now hold can be used to blackmail the killer into ‘dealing’ with their bully.

But the tides quickly turn, seeing James, Mark and Chasley lured into the violent world of serial killer, Ian Wright.

Acolytes is a film that rigorously follows the formula of its genre; it’s fast paced, low on dialogue and has enough suspense to run your adrenal glands dry. The element of fear is unrelenting throughout the film, achieved through the scattering of sudden, blurry flashbacks, and a chilling soundtrack that leaves you skeptical of even the most visually tranquil scenes.

But the scare tactics also run deeper. Joel Edgeton is truly frightening as Wright – his calm and confident approach to his circumstances in the film helps build a character whose morose activity is clearly an obsession feeding off a desire for perfection.

Michael Dorman, Sebastian Gregory and Hannah Mangan-Lawrence also deliver strong debut performances as the three teens, in a film where believable emotion is vital to the story’s suspense and ultimate success.

There is a plot strong enough to keep you interested during the mellow moments of the film – not that there are many – but in the end Acolytes is a teen-thriller. It’s there to scare, without making you think too much.

For that reason Acolytes will never receive the acclaim of something hard-hitting like The Jammed, nor will it have the hype of Wolf Creek. But it does stand on its own as a piece that cements some credibility in Australian genre-films.