18 October 1995

Metal Skin (1994)

Stars Aden Young, Ben Mendelsohn, Tara Morice, Nadine Garner

Australian writer/director Geoffrey Wright's new film has been a long-time-coming and judging by it's savagery, he's had plenty on his mind. Like his promising 1992 debut Romper Stomper, it takes place on society's frayed edges, but where Romper's forthright engagement with racism struck a nerve, Metal Skin's confused and ugly vision of the world risks alienating audiences with its jaundiced world view.

Motorheads expecting "Days of Thunder Down Under" will be disappointed. The hotted up Chargers and GTR-XU1's career impressively around desolate streets but are secondary in screen-time to the main game: broken lives, doomed love, social disintegration. The kids are bad, their parents are mad, and everyone's one push away from the edge.

Set in the inner-urban wastelands of a bleaker-than-usual contemporary Melbourne, Metal Skin follows four troubled twenty-somethings as they walk the tightrope of love and fall off, one by one. There's lots of snogging and lots of sex, but all four are either unloved, unlovable or degrees of both.

Revhead misfit 'Psycho' Joey (Young) is in love with Roslyn (Garner), but she's in an destructive relationship with drag-racing anti-hero Dazey (Mendelsohn). Sevina (Morice), a delusional black magic devotee, in turn loves Dazey, who uses, then rejects her.

After an impressive first half spent chiselling these characters, building their connections and their world, Wright literally loses the plot, lets the whole shebang off the leash and the film spins out into a series of gory, ugly and hysterical episodes.

This is a pity for the gifted Young, who continues to deliver outstanding performances in ordinary films. Morice, Mendelsohn and Garner also do extremely well to draw genuine pathos from their near comic-book characters.

On a technical level the film is equally impressive in design, cinematography, and editing, with action sequences that pack a punch not seen in local cinema since Mad Max 1. But all these noble efforts of cast and crew are wasted in a script which gives in to the decadence it seeks to portray, lamely opting to trundle out a bunch of downbeat melodramatic cliches - from an homage to the "tower scene" in Hitchcock's Vertigo down to the ultra-violent car chase finale.

Metal Skin is a glorious failure, an exiting disappointment. It's own newspaper ads admit as much when they scream that "everything is about to got totally out of control. "And so it does, but to what end remains a mystery.

Rating B-.


First published in Beat Magazine

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