Australian cinema's Hall of Shame has a particularly choice wing: those films whose badness takes them to the verge of a surreal delirium. One watches them with mounting disbelief, until eventually the cascade of misjudged characters, settings, lines of dialogue and incidents prompts an almost pleasurable hysteria.
Who can forget, for instance, the Vatican priest of The Missing (1999), stumbling through the Aussie wilderness as he encounters a string of supernatural apparitions? Or the faded rock star named Lucky in Back of Beyond (1995), regularly pardoning himself from the risible plot with the immortal envoi, "Gotta go – gotta gig"?
But is hard to beat the talking cat in the indescribably woeful Australian film, Visitors. Sure, it doesn't actually move its mouth. Director Richard Franklin claims it is "more realistic than the cat in Sabrina, the Teenage Witch". Indeed – if one takes a cat who sounds like the fruity Australian actor Frank Thring and talks psychobabble as a measure of realism.
The recipient of this feline wisdom is Georgia (Radha Mitchell). She is in a boat, riding solo around the world, and she's going a little nutty. She has visions, she hears voices. And she is plagued by flashbacks – to her Mum (Susannah York) and Dad (Ray Barrett), to her shady boyfriend (Dominic Purcell) and to the corporate vamp (Tottie Goldsmith) who has sponsored her ride.
This film creaks more heavily than the ship it's set on. In a contemporary world racked by a refugee crisis, Everett DeRoche's screenplay is content to retreat into some insipid fantasy about bandits on the high seas – and a curiously vague ethnic mix they are, too.
Franklin (Patrick , Psycho II ) has always been a skilled filmmaker, but his creative instincts now seem quite disconnected from modern pop culture. Both as a thriller and an art movie, Visitors clocks in, sensibility-wise, at around 1957.
The Mummy-Daddy psychodrama stuff is very pale Ingmar Bergman, and the attempts at creating shock and suspense in an isolated setting are sub-Polanski. Hitchcock must be turning in his grave.
All up, I prefer Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.
MORE Franklin: Hotel Sorrento
© Adrian Martin November 2003