Director: Stuart Beattie
Cast: Caitlin Stasey, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Lincoln Lewis, Deniz Akdeniz, Ashleigh Cummings, Phoebe Tonkin
Watch Tomorrw, When the War Began online in the UK: Netflix
If there’s one thing Neighbours has always been missing, it’s a military invasion. Thank goodness, then, for Tomorrow, When the War Began, an Australian effort adapted from John Marsden’s Red Dawn-like novels with almost as much disregard for storytelling as grammar. (If you don’t know how to conjugate the verb “begin”, you’ll love it.)
It all starts out pleasantly enough, with a bunch of teenagers sitting round a pretty bonfire, picnicking in the wilderness. “For all we know, World War III could be happening out there!” They laugh, blissfully unaware that at that very minute their homes are being bombed to heck and their household pets sacrificed. Probably.
Fast forward 20 minutes and it’s a little bit different. “Christ, don’t you know there’s a WAR going on?” they scream at each other, wondering how their country could be taken over so quickly by suspiciously-foreign-looking invaders. It turns out that the troops have spread across Australia thanks to their control of one key bridge leading to the town’s nearby docks. So the kids’ mission swiftly becomes to blow it up – because if there’s one thing an army with helicopters and planes needs, it’s a bridge.
Of course, the cast consists of typical teenagers, from the clueless model (Tonkin) and selfish jock (Lewis) to the nerdy Christian girl (Cummings) and rebellious boy with long hair (Akdeniz). (He’s called Homer. He’s the comic relief.) In among the group are also Rachel Hurd-Wood and Caitlin Stasey. You know, her from Neighbours.
But can her from Neighbours use her perfect teeth as a weapon? Can those legs kick a man’s face to death while hiding from Chinese and/or Japanese search patrols?
Ellie has to do both – ok, neither – in this grave new world. It’s no wonder she suffers from shock. “How many people is it OK to kill in order to keep me alive?” she worries, staring at her friends. No-one answers. Perhaps because it’s one of the few speeches that actually convince.
Moving from the writer’s desk (Collateral) to the director’s chair, it’s odd that Stuart Beattie serves up a naff screenplay here. Despite the efforts of the talented Stasey, the dialogue never sounds like real teenagers talking. It’s as if Beattie has never heard young people speak before. You could replace the humans with dogs and have equally believable conversations. (Maybe that’s how the film first started out – foreigners vs dogs. Until they realised that dogs becoming guerilla warriors would be ridiculous.)
The action’s shot well enough to keep your eyes on the screen, but you won’t care who dies. The film gets its main boost halfway through, when Dr. Clements (Colin Friels) turns up in an abandoned building, dishing out combat advice and updating the kids on their families. “What about my parents?” asks one. “Have they ever had their teeth cleaned?” “No.” “Then how would I know a bloody thing about them?” he yells back, big chunks of ham stored in his grizzled beard. When a film’s highlight is the bit with the dentist, you know you’re in trouble.