Australian writer/director Christopher Houghton’s Touch opens with a desperate mother (Leeanna Walsman) beating down an unassuming business man. Vulnerable and scarded she takes off with her angelic, pixie daughter (Onor Nottle) and a haggered man (Matt Day*), that has all the markings of a detective, is in pursuit.
Touch is as much a film that occurs in the perceptions of the audience as it does on screen. Houghton creates an atmosphere of hopelessness and futility for Dawn and Steph. They’re both fragile figures illequipped to protect themselves from exploitation. Houghton’s vision of the rolling vales and clusters of scrub in the South Australian landscape is inconsequential to the storm that surrounds his characters. There are beautiful moments where the characters are faced with sublime slices of nature; John (Day) takes a toilet break with a divine sunrise filling the screen with haunting light, Steph tosses pebbles into a gurgling brook that looks like it belongs in a Monet painting, and Dawn tears off into the rolling downs for Steph in a moment she runs off. In every single example the camera doesn’t want to expand and demonstrate the characters isolation, instead it invades their personal space. Houghton uses a kind of deafening soundscape that seems to overemphasise incidental sounds and heighten Dawn’s paranoid anxiety about being caught. The deeper details of Touch become far too hard to discuss without unfairly spoiling the revelations within, so I won’t.
Walsman’s Dawn is Touch. Her pyschological torment manifests in a sense of desperation at every turn. She’s resorting to theft, scrounging and haggling and when she’s faced with the presence of Greg Hatton’s Nick she seeks solace from the cloud of despair that haunts her. Walsman completely commits to Dawn’s path toward self destruction. Nottle’s debut performance as Steph is so wonderfully intuitive for a young performer. Not only do her angular feautures explode from the grubby thrift clothing to look the part of the last remaining light in her mother’s life but she’s able to exude a profound comforting maturity in some dark moments for Dawn. Day’s John doesn’t feel like a Terminator presence hunting Dawn and Steph to take to justice. There’s an empathy and care that exudes from his exhausted face.
Houghton fashions a tale of detachment; from your life once lived, your former job that defined you and from your body when you’re seeking out the most base satisfaction. Touch intrigues, without enthralling.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Christopher Houghton
Written by: Christopher Houghton
Starring: Leeanna Walsman, Matt Day, Greg Hatton and Onor Nottle
*Correction – Mat Day was changed to Matt Day