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King Is Dead!, The

D: Rolf de Heer / 106m

Cast: Dan Wyllie, Bojana Novakovic, Gary Waddell, Luke Ford, Lani John Tupu, Roman Vaculik, Lily Adey, Michaela Cantwell, Anthony Hayes

When science teacher Max (Wyllie) and his accountant wife Therese (Novakovic) move into their new home, they are unprepared for the nightmare that is their neighbour, King (Waddell).  An addled, often-stoned slacker with dubious friends and a habit of having loud late night/early morning parties, King is the kind of neighbour who would drive any normal sane person to the brink of desperation… and so it proves with Max and Therese.

At first they try and ignore the nightly disturbances and the antisocial behaviour, the screams and the shouts and the loud music, and what sounds like a woman being attacked.  But when they begin to report these incidents to the police, and warn King that his behaviour is unacceptable, then things take a darker turn than even Max and Therese could have anticipated, and what begins as a distinct Aussie comedy of manners becomes something much darker and less comfortable to watch.

King Is Dead!, The - scene

While the premise is familiar – what would you do when confronted with the neighbour from Hell? – what director de Heer (Ten CanoesBad Boy Bubby) does is take that basic premise and uses it to explore a variety of different, and often unexpected avenues.  At one point, Max and Therese are burgled during the night, and while their suspicions naturally steer in King’s direction, there is no evidence to connect him to the robbery.  But this, and a few more disturbances, sees them not only plotting their revenge, but finding themselves in a situation they are completely unable to deal with.

There is much to like about The King Is Dead!  As the put-upon couple, Wyllie and Novakovic have a winning chemistry together, and while we as observers might find them a little too middle-class in their outlook and aspirations, this is a movie as much about class as it is about how to deal with an annoying neighbour.  As the offending King, Waddell brings a much-needed pathos and underdog sincerity to the role, making the character less of a bad guy and more misunderstood.  The dynamics between the trio are well-handled and all three are recognisable, sympathetic characters we can relate to.

As noted above, the movie starts off as a comedy of manners, and there is much that will remind viewers of Mike Leigh’s work, especially in the opening scenes; the music is also reminiscent of Leigh’s work.  There is plenty of humour, and much of it is to be found in the way that Max and Therese attempt to deal with King and his friends’ behaviour without losing their understanding and sympathy for someone they view as less fortunate than themselves.  Fortunately, they don’t descend into pomposity or self-pity.  Rather, they attempt to take matters into their own hands, and this is when the tone of the movie begins to shift.

Deciding to rid themselves of the problem of King once and for all, Max and Therese devise a couple of plans that backfire on them before coming up with a “last resort” idea: framing King for another “robbery”.  Here we enter, briefly, thriller territory, and then… well, then things take another, entirely different turn, and the tone becomes darker and more unsettling.  This proves to be a step too far in terms of the narrative and doesn’t really work; it also leaves the movie’s ending feeling weak and slapdash.  That said, it’s a brave move, but one that needed to be given more consideration.

De Heer is a confident director and impresses with his handling of both the characters and the fractured community they live in (keep an eye out for the old Sicilian man played by Giuseppe Lo Faro who thinks Max should “burn the lot of them”).  The photography is low-key but effective and the music suits the changing moods throughout.  If the movie struggles on occasion in maintaining the right tone then it’s because of the frequent changes in tack that the movie comes up with.  Still, this is a well-crafted movie, with plenty to say.

Rating: 7/10 – another intriguing movie from Down Under, The King Is Dead! poses some interesting questions, and refuses to let its characters become, or behave as, stereotypes.

Originally posted on thedullwoodexperiment website.