This is one of the finest
Australian films of the past couple decades, and also one of the most
underappreciated: a bleak and upsetting stew of post-teenage ennui,
witchcraft, psychosis and death!
I guess it’s futile by now to expect that this 1994
film (originally titled SPEED) will ever receive any kind of substantial
following. It was venomously reviewed during its 1995 Australian release
and all-but ignored at the box office. I heard it was supposed to be
distributed in the US by Miramax, but that never happened. Not even a
tricked-out DVD release by Subversive Cinema succeeded in working up
Yet METAL SKIN is in my view the finest film of
Geoffrey Wright, best known for his 1992 debut feature ROMPER STOMPER, a
blistering skinhead drama starring a then-unknown Russell Crowe. Other
Wright films include the witty SCREAM pastiche
(2000) and a contemporary take on MACBETH (2006).
Somewhere in Melbourne, Australia, the twentyish Joe,
an awkward, fumbling loser, lives in a rundown shack with his senile
father. Joe’s only passion in life is working on his self-designed hot
rod, a souped-up station wagon. Upon taking a job in a local supermarket
distribution plant Joe meets the like-minded Dazey, who drives a heavily
modified charger. Dazey is slick, carefree and dating the pretty Roslyn,
who Joe has his eye on.
Roslyn and Dazey have a checkered history: some years
earlier Dazey injured her in a car accident that left an ugly scar on
her torso and severe mental trauma. Matters aren’t helped by Dazey’s
compulsive screwing around with seemingly anything that moves.
The fourth part of this demented quadrant is Savina, a
freaky Satan worshipping goth who lives with her demented mother and
works with Joe and Dazey. Savina is infatuated with Dazey, and performs
a spell to get him to fall in love with her. It appears that her spell
has worked when Dazey takes her to bed and invites her to a rave, but in
fact he’s only using her to make Roslyn jealous.
That latter fact is not lost upon Joe, who’s also
looking to hook up with Savina (having concluded he has no chance with
Roslyn). He’s dangerously close to going over the edge completely, as
for that matter is everyone else! All are headed for ruin in an
inescapable vortex of insanity, death and an apocalyptic car chase.
In addition to being a gritty depiction of mid-nineties
Melbourne, METAL SKIN has a stylistic palette as innovative in its way
as the same year’s NATURAL
BORN KILLERS. Jump cuts and time-tripping intercutting are
constants, and provide quite a few moments of oft-kilter brilliance
(such as an early scene in which Roslyn and Daisy discuss their
traumatic car accident, which in place of the expected flashback to the
event employs a flash forward to the climactic auto duel). The
stylistic bravura isn’t utilized for show-offishness, but as an honest
depiction of its characters’ befuddled mindsets.
All the performances are superb, with Aden Young a
standout as the disturbed Joe, along with STRICTLY BALLROOM’S perky Tara
Morice, who’s virtually unrecognizable as the freaky Savina. One feels
for these characters, and part of the film’s lacerating power is its
staunchly uncompromising depiction of their sad but inevitable fates.
Hmmm, maybe it’s not so surprising that METAL SKIN never found much
of an audience.
However, there’s no question that the ultra-intense
4-minute car chase climax is a stunner in every respect. An
unforgettable capper to the frustration and disillusionment simmering
throughout the film, it’s one of the most nerve-jangling automotive
sequences in film history, edited for maximum sensory assault. For those
of you who think every type of movie car chase has been done, METAL SKIN
Daniel Scarfe Productions
Director: Geoffrey Wright
Producer: Daniel Scarfe
Screenplay: Geoffrey Wright
Cinematography: Ron Hagen
Editing: Bill Murphy, Jane Usher
Cast: Aden Young, Tara Morice, Nadine Garner, Ben Mendelsohn, Chantel
Contouri, Petru Gheorghiu, Arthur Angel, Richard Sutherland, Anita
Cerdic, Tommy Dysart, Mike Bishop, Nicholas Polites