Tag Archives: Toby Wallace

Creeping Dread

Acute Misfortune

by Brandon Thomas

Movies have always been a grand showcase for the tortured artist. The pain and darkness they use to create have made for some incredible films over the years. What we don’t normally see is how this darkness seeps its way into the lives of the people the artist is closest to. Acute Misfortune offers a bleak look at how the lines between friendship, work and art begin to blur by way of cruelty. 

Young journalist Erik Jensen (Toby Wallace) is sent by the Sydney Morning Herald to interview acclaimed artist Adam Cullen (Daniel Henshall). Despite Cullen’s intimidating presence, Jensen goes on to write a successful piece. Cullen then offers Jensen the job of being his biographer, which leads to the young journalist staying at the artist’s remote mountain home. As time marches on, Jensen finds himself becoming the target of Cullen’s toxic physical and psychological abuse. 

There are many biopics I’ve loved over the years; but the truth of the matter is that most of them are fairly similar, and sometimes rather bland. The same cannot be said of Acute Misfortune. More often than not, this film feels more akin to a simmering thriller. Not being well versed in the true story the movie is based on, I half expected this to turn into a cliche slasher movie.

The film draws its greatest strength from the tension created. The uncertainty around not only the narrative but Cullen’s actions keeps the audience on the edge of its seat. Director Thomas M. Wright films some scenes in backward motion – a cheap, yet effective, trick that pulls us further into the psychological degradation of our principal leads. It’s a visual gag that adds to the feeling of discomfort surrounding Jensen and Cullen’s relationship.

Wright approaches the material very matter-of-factly, neither overly stylish nor pompous in its manner. With its distinct tone, and by shooting in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Acute Misfortune recalls the infamous Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Nowhere near as brutal – nor even really the same genre – but the ever creeping sense of unease was still just as palpable. 

With its distinct style and adherence to tone, Acute Misfortune is a powerhouse of tension and dread. 

Irregular Checkup


by George Wolf

Why would a first-time feature director make sure her camera lingers a few extra beats on one of those old karaoke videos where the visuals bear no relation to the lyrics being sung?

Because it’s a sly reinforcement of the abrupt, defiant way that Shannon Murphy is telling the story of Babyteeth, and of the unconventional soul at the heart of the film.

That soul would be Milla (Eliza Scanlen), a seriously ill Australian teen who literally bumps into the 23 year-old Moses (Toby Wallace) while waiting for a tram.

She likes his hair, so he gives her a haircut. She brings him home, and suddenly Milla’s parents (Ben Mendelsohn and Essie Davis) have something new to worry about.

“That boy has problems!” Mom shouts.

Milla answers, “So do I!”

True enough, and Rita Kalnejais delivers a debut screenplay that embraces the tough and the tender while taking us inside a fraying family dynamic.

Mom Anna used to be a impressive pianist, but she struggles to stay off pills and keep her tears at bay. Dad Henry is a psychiatrist who handles Milla’s illness in a more pragmatic fashion while he develops a strange fixation on the pregnant neighbor (Emily Barclay).

Mendelsohn and Davis are customarily excellent, each reinforcing the different ways that grief can manifest itself, often pulling them closer and increasing their distance in equal measure. In lesser hands, the eccentricities of these characters could have dissolved into caricature or misguided comic relief, but Mendelsohn and Davis each bring a weary stoicism that keeps both parents grounded.

Scanlen, fresh off playing Beth in last year’s glorious revision of Little Women, is completely transfixing as a girl impatient to experience life. The more Milla is reminded of her sickness, the more she rebels, and Scanlen finds a mix of courage and fear that never feels false.

The whiff of death in coming-of-age dramas has often been reduced to manipulative claptrap, but Murphy takes a bulldozer to that notion with an ambitious narrative that does not allow you to get comfortable.

She introduces themes using chapter titles (some generic, some genuinely touching), transitions very abruptly and leaves some matters unexplained. Murphy’s approach is uniquely assured, requiring our attention but rewarding our emotional investment, as the few mawkish leanings are swept away by the film’s wickedly perverse sense of humor.

After years of directing shorts and TV episodes, Murphy lands on the big screen as a vibrant new voice. Like Milla, she is setting her own pace in the search for the beauty in life, and Babyteeth finds that beauty in unexpected places.