Suburban Mayhem

English Title: Suburban Mayhem

Country of Origin: Australia

Director: Paul Goldman

Screenplay: Alice Bell

Runtime: 95 minutes

Genre: Coming of Age Drama, Black Comedy

Starring/Cast: Anthony Hayes, Michael Dorman, Laurence Breuls, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Morgan, Genevieve Lemon, Steve Bastoni, Emily Barclay

Year: 2006

Volume: Australasian

Nineteen-year-old Katrina Skinner is an unemployed, single-mother living in the suburbs. Spinning between boredom, anger, recklessness, craziness and vulnerability, Katrina is a ‘hurricane’ who moves at a heady pace, wreaking havoc as she goes. After she dumps her baby Bailee on someone, she loves nothing more than doing drugs in the toilet at the mall; shop-lifting and bag-snatching at the shops; bragging and preening at the local beauty salon; ‘picking up’ at the traffic-lights; having sex with a stranger in his ute at the lookout; and driving really, really fast. The whole suburb knows about Katrina’s cold-hearted, selfish and manipulative ways. Aunty Diane criticises her, teen-beautician, Lilya secretly wants to be her and local cop Sergeant Andretti wants to get (with) her. Her long-suffering and devoted dad, John has been raising Katrina and her brother Danny on his own since their drug-addicted mother abandoned them long ago. After Danny is locked up in jail for life for a bungled robbery in which he decapitated a petrol-station attendant for calling Katrina a slut, Katrina becomes incensed. She really loves her brother and needs money for an appeal to get him out of jail, so she figures that the family home might be worth something and sets about orchestrating her father’s death to get the inheritance. Her boyfriend Rusty seems reluctant to do the deed, so she employs Danny’s dim-witted mate Kenny, who is rendered powerless by Kat’s sizzling sexuality. When John is found beaten to death in his bed, Katrina side-steps accusations of her involvement in the murder and becomes a local celebrity, relishing the attention. As director Paul Goldman states, ‘She’s the perfect poster-girl for these raunchy, reactionary, mean times of ours - for our psychopathic society’ (Goldman, production notes).

Stylistically a mix of mockumentary, flashbacks, gritty realism, black comedy, parody, music-video and comic-book, Suburban Mayhem is unique powerhouse of a film. Scenes which bring together slick editing, blasting rock-chick music (Suzi Quatro, Adalita, Fur, The Spazzys, Little Birdy), rich writing and iconic scenes like Katrina stealing Rusty’s Charger, makes for a wild and entertaining ride. Written by self-confessed true crime addict, 20-something Alice Bell, Suburban Mayhem is a tour de force of sex, murder and mayhem. We hear about Katrina through key characters in the film, grotesquely mocking and judging her with (faux)moralistic tones, accompanied by episodic flashbacks about the events that surround Katrina’s father’s death. Without one redeeming feature, Katrina is presented as truly evil and wholly immoral, a contemporary take on the femme-fatale, young and sexy but deadly. Through the characters in the film the filmmakers criticise and mock Katrina, while simultaneously celebrating her as a transgressive female character. It is the ambiguity that underpins the film that is most interesting. Is Katrina a one-dimensional stereotype or a transgressive figure? Are we meant to condemn her or celebrate in her wild misadventures? Are we shocked and saddened or do we laugh at the black humour and/or join in the ridicule? On one level the film is cynical and hard-hitting, making rather conservative comments about for instance, vain pretty girls, fame seeking teens, evil femme-fatales. It also demonises teenage mothers, ‘banal’, ‘ugly’ suburbia and working-class ‘bogans’. But at the same time, so much of it is about rejoicing the kitsch (anti)glamour they provide, and we see that suburbia is far from boring or cultureless. And in the end, Katrina does get away with it all. The main criticism of the film is that there was potential to give Katrina more depth (like in the scenes where her brother rejects her or when she is strung out after a three-day bender), to show Katrina’s vulnerabilities, and to let the audience in on her motivations. Instead the film chooses to present us with a hyper-real, over-the-top, grotesque girl who is wild and stunning, but ultimately superficial, unfortunately a bit like the film itself.

Author of this review: Kristina Gottschall