Dark Age, directed by Arch Nicholson, is the kind of film that, with less bite, could have been a cosy Sunday afternoon adventure film. However, Nicholson's clear adoration for his home turf (and the tougher sensibilities of Oz-based films), makes this a surprisingly deep, high-stakes, caper.
As a film, its somewhere between Crocodile Dundee and Jaws; following the trail of destruction left by an increasingly bold giant croc thought to have sacred properties by the natives. A park ranger joins two aboriginals in a daring attempt to save both the bay and the beast.
It’s an action-packed chase film, a nature thriller, a politically charged conversation motivated by the complicated relationship between aboriginal and white Australia. But its fun and surprisingly exhilarating. Released in 1987, a year after the wildly popular Crocodile Dundee, Dark Age goes beyond a Dundee cash-in and carves out its own particular balance of humour and, weirdly, horror.
As with most Ozploitation films, there's an inherent horror quality, whether it just be the tougher sensibilities of Australian cinema or genuine engagement with horror trope, the film has a dark heart for sure. Though Arch Nicholson doesn’t harness the raw tension of Jaws, he does dip his toes in the nature horror which fuels it and has the audacity to straight up feed an infant to its Holy Croc with startling brutality. Even Spielberg didn’t have the balls to do that. And it doesn’t stop there, this is for sure a film about a killer crocodile, few punches held. But the crocodile isn't the worst part, people are.
Horror fans will be pleasantly horrified to find John Jarratt, no infamous worldwide as Wolf Creek's sadistic serial killer, turning it out as a lovable ranger. Not as deadly or hulking as Crocodile Dundee, Jarratt has his own every-man quality light years from his spine-cracking, skin-flaying other persona.
Crocodile munching and hobo-beating aside, the eventual Mexican standoff between racist drunks, tradition-bound aboriginals, and John Jarratt's increasingly desperate ranger is a murky ending to a surprisingly weighty caper. It’s a responsible film with a strong moral compass and a real love for all facets of its culture. Nicholson wanted to make a great adventure film which is a testament to Australian culture, and he did pretty well.
DARK AGE (1987) / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: ARCH NICHOLSON / SCREENPLAY: STEPHEN CROSS, TONY MORPHETT / STARRING: JOHN JARRATT, NIKKI COGHILL, MAX PHIPPS, BURNHAM BURNHAM / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW