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Australia 2008
Directed by
Anthony Hayes
95 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Ten Empty

After a ten-year absence, Elliott Christie (Daniel Frederiksen) returns to his Adelaide family home for the christening of his half brother. Elliott left home after the death of his mother, Jane, who suicided after a long bout of mental illness. Since then his father, Ross (Geoff Morrell), has married Jane’s sister, Diane (Lucy Bell) and his chronically depressed brother Brett (Tom Budge) has sequestered himself in his bedroom, refusing to speak, Everyone fears that Brett has his mother’s propensity for mental illness but no-one knows how to handle it.

Director Anthony Hayes’s film takes the oft-used premise of the family reunion to expose the weeping wounds and simmering anger that wrack its characters in this stew of Ocker miserabilism. Elliot has tried to break free of the soul-destroying claustrophobia of Adelaide and his working-class family by becoming a metro-sexual Sydney-sider but not only is his relationship with his father persistently strained but his once-cheerful younger brother has descended into depression as a  result of their mother's suicide.  He has a brief fling with an old flame (Blazey Best) which he immediately regrets.

One of the, to me at least, mysteries of Australian film is its seemingly bottomless appetite for dysfunctionality. Ten Empty is a prime example of the tendency. Co-written by Hayes with Brendan Cowell (who appears here as Shane), the script comes across as an unrelenting display of mutual self-destruction for art’s sake rather than what it is supposed to be  - a moving study of a family facing a crisis.  Certainly that goal is discernible but it is drowned by a lack of credible dramatic texture and over-indulgence in flip-flopped Strine, the latter signified particularly by Jack Thompson’s typically-hearty publican.

Too much time is given over to Ross’s drunken antics and far too little to the character of his new wife, Diane (Lucy Bell). No explanation is given as to why she married Ross (something which you'd think would be a major issue for Brett) and rather oddly she appears to be only slightly older than Elliot. Although a line of dialogue early in the film makes explicit that Ross is her baby’s father she goes almost the entire film without speaking to,or interacting with, him or really, for that matter, anyone at all except Elliot.

The key plot and thematic component, when Elliot finds that his younger brother is suffering from debilitating depression, should have led us into matters of substance but with Budge hamstrung by a dialogueless role, bar a tokenistic and improbable visit to a psychiatrist with a Beyond Blue poster conveniently displayed on the wall, we are left with Morrell raging drunkenly as Bell and Frederiksen look on and the story dutifully works its way through some standard narrative turns to a soft-pedalling resolution.

Some re-shaping of the script to give its characters depth of connection would have considerably improved this otherwise well-intentioned film.




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