In Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1 Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba) tells the Bride (Uma Thurman) “Revenge is never a straight line, it’s a forest; and like a forest, it’s easy to lose your way.” Debut Australian filmmaker Kasimir Burgess drops Matt Nable (Riddick, The Final Winter) and Daniel Henshall (Snowtown) into the literal wilderness to explore primal concepts; grief, love and vengeance.
Thomas (Matt Nable) and his only daughter Lara are on a camping trip in the woods when she tragically steps in the path of a logging truck driven by Luke (Daniel Henshall). Luke’s reaction is flight, abandoning Thomas and the mortally wounded Lara and back into the arms of his then lover Karen (Adele Perovic) for solace (which ultimately results in the birth of his own daughter Madeline). Retreating from life Thomas goes off the grid and retreats into the woodland, a place of isolation, haunted by the memories of his daughter. Luke serves five years in prison and comes back to Timber town and his job where he encounters Chris (Thomas under an alias), now working for the logging company.
Burgess directorial style is not one that’s necessarily easily comparable to other filmmakers. Fell is set in the woods occasionally staring at the light refracting through the leaves, but it doesn’t feel as staged as say the work of Terrence Malick. In way there’s an anti Malick sentiment by not being content looking at the sublime natural; Burgess wants to see what happens when man imposes himself on nature or immerses himself in wild. There’s a goose-bump inducing scene where Nable’s Thomas/Chris must prove his worth by chopping a tree down with an axe. Burgess uses slow motion to enhance how his heartbreak had the potential to manifest in rage. In a splash, that you feel like you may have dreamt, he hints at Thomas/Chris’ reprisal fantasy. The crunch and crack of the forest giants falling reverberate through you. Burgess is mindful to identically construct the narrative echoes in the story. Nable streaking through the woods to expel his energy, Henshall streaking through the same woods to punctuate his release from prison. These men have so much in common that the way to justice or satisfaction becomes as dense as the surrounds.
Screenwriter Natasha Pincus’ scripting stacks the scenario together quickly and leaves huge gaps where the exposition disappears and the performers come into their element. It’s almost as if she wrote the scenario and crafted the essential interactions and allowed whole sections of the film for the actors to convey the themes she and Burgess intended.
Nable is spellbinding. In a way he’s three characters in one. He’s Thomas; the very embodiment of tenderness with his adoring daughter Lara. Nable is usually an actor that you’d associate with an almost abrasive toughness. Playing against type, nursing this fragile bird unlocks yet another facet to one of Australia’s most exciting actors. Next is this nameless despondency, numb to the world, attempting to feel again with the masochistic acts like cutting, moulding his physical body until exhaustion and the oppressive isolation. Nable shows the lengths he’s willing to go to commit to an arduous physical performance. Finally there’s Chris, the identity he’s assumed after abandoning his old life and a mutation of the Thomas after years of melancholia and that’s found a meditative quiet in the work of felling these ginormous redwoods.
Henshall’s Luke is coasting through life and the accident with Lara and the accident that brings Madeline in the world only further demonstrate he’s directionless. Henshall plays Luke as irresponsible yet charming in the face of your natural impulse to fiercely hate the character. Once he’s faced with the reality of the task of being a father he starts to abandon the selfishness that defines him and starts to echo the warmth of Thomas (Nable) at the beginning of Fell. There’s a critical encounter where Henshall and Nable are talking at a camp fire (that I won’t spoil with detail) that was almost worthy of an applause.
Fell introduces an electrifying Australian directorial voice in Burgess and proves that the words ‘tour de force’ are going to continue to follow the names Nable and Henshall.
[rating=4] and a half
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: Kasimir Burgess
Written by: Natasha Pincus
Starring: Matt Nable, Daniel Henshall, Jaqueline McKenzie, Eddie Baroo, Adele Perovic, Damian Hill,
SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: For a limited time Fell will be available to stream online from the Sydney Film Festival website, giving audiences beyond the State Theatre access to the world premiere. For only $9.99 you can see this in competition film on any Internet enabled device. Watch the online stream here.