DVD Review: Dark Frontier

STUDIO: Screen Media | DIRECTOR: Kriv Stenders | CAST: Aden Young, Toby Wallace, Hanna Mangan Lawrence, Pip Miller, Neil Pigot
DVD RELEASE DATE: 5/21/2013 | PRICE: DVD $24.98
SPECS: R | 92 min. | Western | 1.85:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1 | English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall


Remember sitting around on a Saturday afternoon when you were a kid, watching your dad stumble onto a random Western on TV starring people you’d never heard of? The title didn’t really matter, because it was always the same thing: gritty characters spouting lines of dialogue that made as little sense to you as their seemingly-random actions. The violence seemed arbitrary, everyone could have used a shower, and the indoor scenes were always way too dark to tell what was going on. Inevitably, you’d finish the movie bored and confused, knowing you’d be watching another one next week for lack of anything better to do.

Dark Frontier movie scene

Aden Young goes to the gun to protect his family in Dark Frontier.

That’s pretty much the exact feeling you get when watching Dark Frontier, a 2009 Australian Western by Kriv Stenders (Red Dog) set in 1902, at the dawn of Australia’s existence. The film tells the tale of Nat (Aden Young), a recently-widowed father of two, barely surviving in the woods, cut off from all resources and civilization. Why doesn’t he leave? Because of some religious conviction, I think. It’s hard to be sure, as the film never really explains anything- it just presents a half-insane dad with his two frustrated kids pitted against three greedy, short-sighted antagonists in the form of ex-soldiers who are clearly trouble the minute they enter the story.

From the very beginning of the film, you’re confused- and not in a good way. There’s a difference between being artfully vague and lazily obscure. Since we’re never given any insight into the characters- why they are how they are or why they act the way the act- we’re never invested in their fate. By the time we realize the heart of the film lies in young Tom’s idealism triumphing above the short-sighted philosophy of greed, the movie’s almost over. It spends most of the time forgetting to set this theme up, and then tries to catch up with big, epic scenes of empty emotional and physical violence. Virtually every main character wanders around the woods half-crazed at some point in the film, and most of them end up dying, just ’cause why not? Too little, too late, too boring.

Because it’s a western set in Australia, comparisons to John Hillcoat’s 2005 The Proposition are inevitable- but these superficial similarities don’t hide the fact that the two films have nothing in common. Dark Frontier does have some decent performances, especially with the two kids (Aden Young and Hanna Mangan Lawrence) but the few bright points don’t add up to much. You’re better off watching The Proposition again, which is exactly the subtle, beautifully-crafted movie Dark Frontier (or Lucky Country, it’s original title) wishes it could be.


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About Memo

Memo Salazar attempts many things and accomplishes few. His big three are making films, music, and comics, but he'll throw photography, graphic design and film criticism into the ring for good measure. He'll even make you a hand-painted t-shirt if you ask nicely. You can track his activity here when there's nothing else to do at work.