Film Review: Lost Gully Road.

Film Review Series by Lance Sinclair.

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This week State Library of Queensland’s cinephile, Lance Sinclair, reviews Lost Gully Road, directed by Donna McRae and starring Adele Perovic, John Brumpton and Jane Clifton.

Image from film Lost Gully Road, directed by Donna McRae, produced by Liz Baulch and Donna McRae, streamed on Kanopy database.

LOST GULLY ROAD

There has always been a small sub-genre of the horror movie world that shies away from the gratuitous or the obvious, and instead aims to leave its viewers with a lingering sense of unease, a quiet shudder on an otherwise sunny day. The sudden chill on the back of the neck, the creaking board in an abandoned house, the sudden unknowable look in the eye of someone previously familiar.

Films as diverse as Picnic at hanging rock, Let’s scare Jessica to death, Burnt offerings or the more recent Queen of Earth have all trafficked in quiet turmoil and lingering unease. Call it Ambient Horror, and add the 2017 Australian feature Lost Gully Road into this eerie company.

Carrying the entire movie on her shoulders and appearing in almost every scene is Adele Perovic as Lucy, playing a woman out of her element, fleeing from troubles that will slowly be revealed to us as Lost Gully Road plays itself out. Alone, cut off from all communication with the outside world, save the mobile phone that connects her to her sister and the increasingly dire news she has to report, Lucy is disappearing day by day into a new world of somnambulistic wanderings and free floating dread.  The movie takes full advantage of the beauty and mystery that’s inexorably tied into the Australian forest landscape, as Lucy attempts to adjust to the solitude and endless space of the superficially beautiful cabin she’s been sequestered into as she waits out the urban peril that seems to be inching closer with the passing of each dreamlike day.

It should be noted that Lost Gully Road is a film that will test the patience of many of its viewers. It is an extremely slow burn, like a schematic whose full scope is revealed as we gradually back away from it. We spend a lot of downtime with Lucy, as she reconciles what her life is going to be. We’re thrust into a situation much as she is, in a state of uncertainty and free-fall, the eye of a storm that’s coming for her on multiple fronts. The decision to play her as a not entirely sympathetic character, but as a real person with the faults and vanities we all carry, along with her occasional moments of deadpan humour is a choice that enhances this story, and elevates the stakes and our concern as the supernatural forces lurking at the edges of the movie slowly come to the fore. The physicality of her performance, mostly restrained until the sudden, shocking bursts of paranormal assault, is an example of how to create intimacy with a character through total immersion.

Adding to its aura of mystery is the music, composed by Clare Moore and Dave Graney, that riffs on the maudlin, lullably-esque scores heard in so many supernatural movies of the 1960’s and 70’s. It’s bleeding from non-diegetic use (something that only we as the audience can hear) to its intrusion into Lucy’s life via unexpectedly cropping up on various radios around her is one of the many subtle off-putting tricks sprinkled throughout the movie for those willing to connect with its weirdly skewed logic.

Round things off with small appearances from cult actors Jane Clifton and John Brumpton – seen and beloved in the television show Prisoner and Romper Stomper respectively (amongst many others), and you have a treat for fans of uncanny Australian outsider cinema.

The world of motion pictures, always prone to peaks and valleys of style, may have reached pinnacle overstimulation for now. We have been through an age of franchise-based escalation, throwing more and more at us – more characters, more spectacle, more excess. Perhaps it’s time to breathe, to take the time to luxuriate in a story like Lost Gully Road, and head back to tone, mood and space.

Further reading

  • Bush gothic a slow burn. Hawker, Philippa. The Australian; 24 Nov 2017, p.17. (article)
  • Haunting film with a twist. Geelong Advertiser; 20 July 2018, p.20. (article)
  • Beyond the crypt: Donna McRae on 'Art and the academy'. Helms, Michael; 2014. Metro Magazine: Media & Education Magazine, No.180, pp.50-53. (article)
  • Fright club: Film. Wilson, Jake. Sydney Morning Herald; 30 Apr 2016, p.12. (article
  • Gothic Definitions: The New Australian "Cinema of Horrors". Rayner, Jonathan. Antipodes, Jun 2011, Vol.25(1), pp.91-97. (article
  • Projecting phantasy : the spectre in cinema / McRae, Donna ; Palmer, Daniel ; Monash University ; Monash University. Photomedia. ; 2012 ; National Library of Australia. (dissertation)
  • Australian Screen in The 2000s. / Ryan, Mark David; Goldsmith, Ben; Cham : Palgrave Macmillan; 2018. (ebook)
  • A new companion to the Gothic / Punter, David (ed) ; Malden, Mass. : Wiley-Blackwell ; 2012. (ebook)
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