Down Under Video Reviews: “Red Billabong” and “Glitch”

Figure 1 – Australia

I think this is the first full column of 2017; last week’s column was more of a round-up of 2016 than a full column. So, welcome to 2017!

Seems that in recent years, many people are trying to get in touch with their roots; no matter what their ethnic background, people are trying to find out who their “people” are. So in that spirit, I’m going to try to get in touch with my roots on my mother’s side. I think I may have told you that I’m half Australian — my mother was a war bride who came to the US on a “bride ship” with hundreds of other war brides. My father, who was in the Army Air Corps, which became the US Air Force, had been stationed in Australia for some training, and then sent to Papua/New Guinea, where he was a machinist. I’m not sure if he ever saw “action,” as he didn’t talk about his wartime service much. Anyway, my mother was born in Bendigo, state of Victoria (lower right-hand corner on the map in Figure 1); he met her in Melbourne, where she was an art teacher, I believe. Her family, the Jones family, was fairly well known in Bendigo. My older sister was actually born in Australia. So this week’s offering will look at two Aussie (pronounced as if the “s” were a “z,” please!) videos: one a 2016 horror movie, and one a TV series.

One interesting thing about Australia is that a lot of the wildlife is deadly. Snakes, spiders — if you want a real chill, search on YouTube for “redback spider versus snake” videos. The redback is one of Australia’s deadliest arachnids. You’ll see why on YouTube.

Figure 2 – Red Billabong Poster

Let’s take a look at Red Billabong first. For those of you not in the know, a “billabong” is somewhat similar to what they used to call an “oxbow” in the US; more generally, however, it’s defined as a pond left when a river changes its channel, but is still connected to the river. (You might remember the song “Waltzing Matilda.”) This movie follows the fortunes of a couple of brothers somewhere in Queensland, Nick and Tristan, who’ve been somewhat estranged for years. As the movie opens, it’s dark, and there’s a man in a “bush hat” running through the bush (“the bush” is what Aussies generally call the country). He stops and looks at a crudely-drawn map, and comes to what looks like an opening in a rock face. A person in a hoodie aims a gun at him from behind. “Give me the map,” the person says, and the man in the hat says something like “It’s no use to you; I’ve already changed my will. I’ve left it to the tribe.” The hoodie man says “I hope you’ve said your goodbyes,” and we see a disturbance in the bush behind him that he doesn’t notice, but the man in the hat does. “Goodbye,” he says, and the hoodie man fires. Hearing the crashing behind him, he turns and starts firing wildly behind him. “Get away from me,” he yells.

Next thing we know, it’s daylight, and we’re watching Nick drive towards the house, which has a small paddock (a corral) with a couple of horses in it; Nick’s driving a “ute,” or utility truck (we’d call it a pickup). He pulls up to the house and Max the dog jumps out; Nick goes up to the front door and bangs on it…but nobody answers. Max runs around the back, barking, and Nick runs after him, calling him. (Max appears to be at least part pit bull; he’s white with black spots. Quite an attractive dog.) Near the billabong in the back of the house, Nick finds a dead kangaroo that’s been eviscerated, quite bloodily. While he’s squatting, looking at the billabong, Tristan comes up behind him with a shovel; there’s a bit of banter between the brothers, and you can sense there’s not a lot of love for Nick on Tristan’s side. We find out that their father has died and, due to Nick’s absence, he’s left the place to Tristan, but has promised the house and land to the local Aboriginal tribe, as it is part of their heritage. Tristan, however, has other ideas. He’s been promised a small fortune to sell it to a mysterious third party.

Meanwhile, Tristan’s friend BJ drives up in a kombi (what we’d call a “VW Van”) with another young man and a couple of young women. They’ve come to party with Tristan, bringing booze — and the kombi’s decked out as a party vehicle. Tristan — as he admits to his brother — has been selling weed for BJ; and BJ wants his weed back. Gradually, we find out that after their stepfather disappeared, Nick left the farm and went off to the city, “deserting them,” as Tristan put it. “BJ’s been more of a brother than you,” he tells Nick. The newcomers and Tristan begin to party, and Rebecca goes off to have a swim in the billabong. As she swims, there is a disturbance in the water, and she disappears. Pretty standard movie stuff, even horror movie stuff, so far. The acting is pretty standard for a horror movie; the script is, in many ways, pretty standard too. The movie continues with the usual monster attacks against various people, there are revelations, and all finally ends. (Or does it? Ominous music….)

Does it ever rise above the mundane horror movie? Well, yes, in some ways it does. If you want to know more, and aren’t concerned with spoilers, continue reading. If you don’t want spoilers and are planning to watch it yourself, skip the next paragraph.

In some ways it’s similar to Alien — the big revelation is that the people offering Tristan a bunch o’ money are led by his long-missing stepfather, who Tristan thinks has been sending money back to support him and his mother. (In actuality, it was not him, it was Nick who was doing so.) The pseudo Weyland-Yutani crew intend to capture the monster and sell it to some unnamed military for weaponization. The other revelation is that the monster is the legendary bunyip—an Australian monster unknown outside the boundaries of that island continent… a bunyip is a mythical swamp-dwelling animal that — depending on which legend you follow — either kills and eats people and animals that come near its swamp (or billabong, in this case), or is a harmless vegetarian. In most cases, it’s been described as up to about 12 feet tall, larger than an elephant, and shaggy/hairy. In this movie, we see a fair amount of it, thanks to CGI and, I’m guessing, some practical effects; it’s about that tall, but looks like a cross between a toad, a wrestler, and a piranha (oh, those teeth!), with little red eyes. And this bunyip has a mystical plan for turning three women evil — their eyes turn blank and they have the siren’s ability to hypnotize men — and then taking over (dare I say it?) the world! Or something like that. And Nick, who one assumes has been the protagonist, is killed — or maybe just disappears so he can return in the sequel. Because there will be a sequel, according to the end of the film, where it says “The Bunyip Will Return!”

Verdict? I’d give it about three ¤¤¤s. What lifts it above the usual soap-opera-ish horror film are a few things: a) it’s Australian. For me, that gives it a bit of poignancy, given my heritage; b) Although the script is lacking, the actors — both male and female — give fairly good performances; c) they don’t condescend to the Aboriginal actors; and, finally, d) it uses an Australian monster that’s not well-known outside the country. Oh, and I forgot that at one point, BJ — while looking for his girlfriend in the bush—starts talking about “drop bears,” which are another legend told to tourists. Look it up; I thought that was hilarious. Another thing is that since I don’t know many Australian actors and actresses, there was no baggage attached to any of them; I could watch them as characters without thinking of their offscreen personas. Rating: ¤¤¤

Figure 3 – Glitch advertisement

Now we come to the really good part of this column: a TV series worth watching, in my opinion. Now, bear in mind I haven’t seen any of the TV series in North America or elsewhere about people returning from the dead. The Returned, and its fellow series, just haven’t caught my interest…but if they’re anything like Glitch, I might change my mind! Glitch takes place in the fictional Victoria town of Yoorana. Yoorana looks like many American heartland small towns: one long drag with the majority of stores and services on it, plus a number of side streets. Something that seems to set Yoorana apart from many towns is that it seems — from internal evidence — to be impossible to get in or out of town in a vehicle without crossing a bridge. That will be a factor later in the review.

***SPOILER ALERT*** It will be almost impossible to talk about Season 1 of Glitch without giving some spoilers, so I’m just warning you in advance. According to the internet, Netflix has picked this up and will be airing Season 2 this year (Season 1 was in 2015). So proceed with caution if, like my wife (the Beautiful and Talented Lynne Taylor Fahnestalk), you don’t want to know anything in advance of watching it.

One thing I liked about this show was the cultural sensitivity: a “Viewer Advice” warning was put on the screen before the show aired: “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are advised that this program contains images and voices of people who have died.” Obviously these cultures prohibit images and voices of dead persons; I’ve never seen these types of warnings on American TV shows.

Anyway, in Yoorana, something strange is happening: six people have crawled out of their graves. A young Aboriginal boy, Beau, is present, and has filmed some of it with his phone. Town constable (State Police, actually) James Hayes, is called in, and discovers that these people (he sees five; the sixth was a man filmed by Beau who gets away unseen) have risen from the dead in perfect health. They are all from different times; the man Beau is following died in the mid-1800s; one of them is the constable’s wife, who died of breast cancer two years ago; another was a soldier in the First World War; another was an Italian P.O.W. from World War II, and yet another was a woman who died with her daughter in a car accident fifty years ago. One thing that James, the constable, doesn’t tell his newly-revived wife is that he has remarried and his new wife is two weeks from having a baby. We see (and this is just the first episode) much opportunity for soap opera…I mean, confusion and heartache.

The town doctor, Elishia McKellar, assists James in checking the health of the revivified, and also in keeping their existence secret. After all, what would James put on a police report? If their existence was known, wouldn’t scientists and the like want to experiment on these people to find out how they had come back to life? Also, his supervisor, Vic — who has his own town to look after — is hanging around Yoorana trying to figure out what’s going on with James. None of the returned seems to remember much aside from their first names, and it takes a while for them to remember more. Kate, James’s (first) wife, remembers having breast cancer and a double mastectomy, but when she doffs her top and looks in the mirror, her breasts have returned. The youngest of the returned, Kirstie — who seems to have a real attitude problem — injures her leg coming out of the grave. James discovers that Carlo, the Italian P.O.W., who doesn’t speak English, has a living brother in a rest home out of town, but when he attempts to take Carlo there, Carlo starts bleeding from the eyes and dies on the bridge out of town. He immediately decomposes into dust, leaving behind the bullet that probably killed him back in the 1940s. It becomes clear that leaving Yoorana won’t be possible for the returned.

Beau, the young Aboriginal man, discovers — because there’s a bronze bust of him in the town square — that the man he’s been following was the first Mayor of Yoorana, Patrick (Paddy) Fitzgerald. When Carlo died, unknown to anyone else, another man clawed his way out of the grave — this one outside the graveyard — leaving a bosun’s pipe in the dirt. He stumbles off into the dark, and we see scars from a whipping on his back. Which is odd, given that the other returnees come back in perfect health. He is eventually collared by James, hiding in a girls’ changing room at a school, and brought to the doctor’s place. She (the doctor), meanwhile, has moved everyone to her late aunt’s & uncle’s place — a place that nobody else knows about — to “keep them safe,” but she doesn’t say what from. Kate finds out that James has married her best friend — and tries to leave town, only finding out about the prohibition against leaving exists when her eyes begin to bleed and she nearly dies again. The woman, Maria, who died with her daughter in a car crash, finds out her husband is still alive and in a nursing home. She goes to see him, and he repels her, calling her a “putana,” or whore. I hope all this has whetted your appetite, as there’s a lot more going on….

There are six episodes in the first season, and I was fascinated during all of them. I don’t intend to describe too much here, as I think that if Netflix does pick it up for a second season, you will be able to watch Season 1 on Netflix too; you probably don’t want to know too much about it! Yes, it’s a bit soap-opera-ish with the two wives, and there are mysteries besides the “how did they come back from the dead?” one, which I will leave you to discover. I liked it a whole lot, and give it four out of five what’s-its. Rating: ¤¤¤¤

Comments on this week’s column are welcome. If you haven’t already registered, please register and comment here. Or you can comment on my Facebook page, or in the several Facebook groups where I publish a link to this column. Your comments are all appreciated; and don’t feel you have to agree with me to post a comment, either. My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owners, editors, publishers or other columnists. See you next week!

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