THE FLOOD  (REVIEW)
Dir. Victoria Wharfe McIntyre
Reviewer. Ed Hartland
Roger Ebert famously talked about film as an empathy machine. If the opening shot is of a person’s face, we will automatically want to empathise with them. It’s a shortcut to getting us onside with a central character, make them the first thing we see in the film and like a baby animal we will imprint on this central character and start rooting for them.
THE FLOOD takes a slightly different approach to its opening images. We are presented with short glimpses of scenes in the build up to a flood interspersed with intertitles providing historical context. This is useful for someone, like myself, who isn’t well versed in Australian history, but unfortunately makes it a little tricky to connect with the film from the off. It feels fragmentary.
This sort of technique, taking the viewer out of the film for contextual reasons, crops up throughout THE FLOOD—fortunately these later moments are less jarring and disjointed than the opening sequence. One lovely moment of dark comedy comes in a set of slides explaining a family tree and fate of a character’s eye.
The other aspect of THE FLOOD’s opening that struck me throughout the film was the dialogue. The bittiness of the dialogue in this sequence is representative of the entire film, never quite convincing. It feels as though THE FLOOD is aiming for something hardboiled and gritty, but it isn’t quite pulled off in the dialogue. Lines don’t always ring true and sometimes exchanges stray into clichéd territory.
The world of THE FLOOD is a hard place and there are plenty of unpleasant moments. All of them feel rooted in truth, but unfortunately they lack the necessary emotional punch to really draw viewers in. Bad things happen, but at one remove. One sequence that comes to mind is when Jarah (well performed by Alexis Lane) is subjected to horrific abuse in a jail cell. As I watched this I found myself lacking the awful gut punch reaction that I experienced while watching THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT for the first time.
It’s important to note that the intention of THE FLOOD’s writer-director, Victoria Wharfe McIntyre, doesn’t appear to be to overwhelm, as Wes Craven’s intention was with his infamous debut, but the scene just doesn’t horrify as it should. It all feels too familiar. It’s been done more effectively in other films.
When we see Shaka Cook’s Waru Banganha try and free his fellow soldier from a landmine, it put me in mind of the incredibly tense sequence in ICE COLD IN ALEX when they are crossing the minefield, but THE FLOOD can’t evoke that level of tension. This isn’t a criticism of the actors involved in the scene, it’s that the tension isn’t drawn and teased out enough.
Where THE FLOOD really excels and is at it’s most effective is in the eerie and unsettling use of sound; both Petra Salsjo’s score and in the natural soundscapes. Staccato piano stabs in an early scene in the church create tension in a way that isn’t matched by the dialogue. What is so brilliant about the music is that Salsjo allows for space, it never overwhelms whether utilising sparse, unsettling piano or eerie squalls.
THE FLOOD is at it’s best when there is this time to breathe, when there’s less reliance on dialogue and more trust placed in more cinematic techniques; the old adage of show don’t tell. Sadly it isn’t often given breathing space and often feels too heavy handed in the way it deals with its (very important) themes that include colonization and abuse.
Granted, there is no reason for important issues like this to be delivered in a subtle way. Sometimes, when you have a point to make, you want to put it front and centre, but—at least for me—this heavy hand was to the detriment of what THE FLOOD has to say.
For all this, THE FLOOD is not a dull watch. It’s ambitious, the performances are good, and it has a lot to say, but overall it is a little underwhelming when it could have so much more bite. It meanders when it should ratchet up the tension, take a firm grip on you and refuse to let go. Sadly, it’s grip is not tight enough.