Over the last few years the Australian film industry has undergone something of a revival. We have had great drama (Animal Kingdom) great action (Tomorrow, When the War Began) and great horror (The Loved Ones, Wolf Creek). So it’s a shame to report that Uninhabited represents something of a step back for Australian film. It seems to have a lot of the right elements; it just can’t make them work as a whole and represents a bit of a missed opportunity.
The film starts with young lovers Beth (Geraldine Hakewill) and Harry (James Franco look-alike Henry James) making their way to a deserted island off the coast of North East Australia. The island is surrounded by a coral reef hiding lots of deadly creatures and the man on the boat has a look that says he knows more than he is letting on, so you know this won’t end well. Beth and Harry are happy with just each other for company at first and spend their time relaxing and fishing. Then they start to notice strange footprints around them when they awake and someone has filmed them on their video camera whilst they slept in their tent. To make matters worse a couple of low lives show up with machine guns which they use to fish and they seem to have very unpleasant intentions towards Beth. The young lovers discover an abandoned cabin in the jungle and learn of a slave girl who was raped and tortured by seven men and then has taken revenge on anyone who stayed on the island too long in years past. It seems that the woman’s spirit is still a part of the island and Beth and Harry could be next.
There isn’t a problem with the setting; in fact it’s kind of unique. How many horror films in recent years can you mention that take place in full blue sky and no shade daylight? The vengeful ghost is not a new idea, it’s been done before and better in The Ring and any other Japanese film you care to mention from recent years. There is still room to bring something new to this genre as the Spanish keep proving this each year with superb ghost stories. The problem with this film is a woeful script backed up by two of the most shockingly bad performances I have seen in recent years. Geraldine Hakewill and Henry James are bad bad actors. From the minute they step off the boat and start twirling around, amazed they are in paradise like some kind of bipolar patient on a manic high, it's just dead eyed delivery of some of the worst dialogue ever written. Writer/Director Bill Bennett clearly has no clue how a young couple behaves, either that or he has been surrounded by an invading race of pod people his whole life. It’s almost like he is ticking boxes as he goes, young couple get naked, go for a swim, make love etc. You get no sense that these two have any kind of romantic history at all; it seems like two catalogue models got shoved in front of the cameras for some kind of reality TV show.
So much of the script is by the numbers it's like the first draft from an end of year screenwriting student. It hits all the predictable beats that it should, an event in the last five minutes is telegraphed by a scene near the start that sticks out like a sore thumb and it just plods along to the inevitable conclusion. Things get sort of interesting when a couple of pirates show up and look like they are going to torture our heroes (and by the time they do you’ll be begging them to kill them off). This is then proved completely pointless and tossed away as a device to pad out the completely superfluous middle act of the film. The behaviour of the male lead character is completely retarded as well; when stuff starts to get creepy, Beth wants to immediately leave. Harry makes her stay because she is somehow overworked back in the real world as a marine biologist. So why do they spend so much time fishing? Beth doesn’t seem like she can divide four by two let alone be some kind of specialist in anything except pointing out how pretty everything is. Harry also makes her stay not after the first creepy event but after about five, where any logical human being would be building a raft and heading for the horizon.
Uninhabited is not a total waste. The setting is very pretty and it may well inspire you to go on holiday somewhere similar. It’s also a good reminder to struggling screenwriters everywhere that even your most brain dead basic script will have someone somewhere who wants to finance it. If someone somewhere put their money behind them and made this piece of rubbish, there is hope for all of us.
Extras: Interviews, Making Of, Trailer
Uninhabited is out now on DVD