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Australia 2015
Directed by
Nick Matthews
102 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

One Eyed Girl

Synopsis: Travis (Mark Leonard Winter), is a thirty-something state psychiatrist haunted by the death of a former patient. On the brink of a nervous breakdown he stumbles across a self-actualization group run by a charismatic leader calling himself Father Jay (Steve Le Marquand).

Australian films are regularly criticized, at least locally, for their audience-diminishing grimness. One Eyed Girl can certainly be cited in this respect. Grim does not however mean bad. Look at Snowtown or Wake in Fright.  Nick Matthews' feature directorial debut isn’t bad, indeed there are good things about it, but the script by Matthews and Craig Behenna is rather generic whilst directorially Matthews tends to over-determine his realization of it. In other words, the story unfolds without a compelling motivational underpinning or even much that is distinctive other than its South Australian setting and Matthews drives his points home with seemingly axe-grinding insistence.

At the heart of the matter is the character of Travis. From the get-go he is established as an individual going through a personal crisis brought on, as we see via some nicely-interpellated flashbacks, by an unprofessional relationship with a female patient (Kate Cheel). This makes him ripe for some self-destructive then straw-clutching behaviour but instead of showing him investing in the cult’s philosophy he scorns them. Yet on the basis of one brief encounter he is kidnapped by them and subjected to a variety of resistance-breaking techniques.  Given that Travis is a psychiatrist his response to this turn of events, which pretty much comes down to yelling “get away from me ya muthfuckas”, is hardly credible.  In fact, most of the film is given over to Travis trying to get away from the cultists so that the film plays more like a dutiful Hollywood hostage thriller than a potentially interesting psychological drama about misplaced trust along the lines of 2011’s excellent Martha Marcy May Marlene which explored similar territory.  Matthews and Behenna (who here plays the sympathetic cult lieutenant, Tom), rely too much on expositional dialogue to tells us what we should be inferring from their characters’ behaviour while Matthews relentlessly piles on the angst, pausing only briefly for a fireside jamboree.

Winter (who is billed as Mark Leonard Winter in the opening credits but Mark Winter in the closing ones) whom I recall fondly from an ultra-low budget film of some years ago The Silent Mangoes has a demanding part that requires him to constantly emote varying degrees of pain (and vomit, a symbolic act of which Matthews is over-fond). He does a respectable job but is too constrained by the one-note role.  Steve Le Marquand, on the other hand, is compelling as the cult leader and Kate Cheel impresses in her small role. Tilda Cobham-Hervey who came to everyone’s attention in last year’s 52 Tuesdays is underwhelming as the too obviously siren-like titular character.

Technically One Eyed Girl is a well-made film. Jody Muston’s cinematography and Michael Darren’s music combine well to create a suitably bleak context whilst David Ngo’s editing builds the narrative well and for all his tendency to belabour his points Matthews is evidently a talented director. It is a film that will struggle to find an audience but hopefully the team that made it will be back for another shot.




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