After scorching the Australian film industry with her blistering low budget street drama The Jammed (2007), a damning exposé on illegal prostitution rings in Melbourne, writer/director Dee McLachlan returns to throw some kero on the fire with a hell-for-leather send-up of reality television so fast moving it needs a sign: no pregnant women or people with heart conditions allowed.
Originally titled Who Wants to be a Terrorist, a better, pointier name, 10 Terrorists! imagines the obscene extremities in store for small screen entertainment and takes us there, the film as ghoulishly frenetic as the crassest yet-to-be invented reality TV program.
Three judges interview candidates, X Factor style, who believe they have what it takes to be a terrorist. Ten ethnically diverse selections are made and the contenders are put through the wringer — instructed to trek across rugged landscape, make bombs, find a bazooka, jump out of a plane, etcetera — while the show’s producer barks orders down the phone line from LA. The contestants get knocked out and the challengers get zanier. The story is a rehash of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, with the medium of TV taking the place of a (human) serial killer.
Co-edited by Dee McLachlan and Sam Davies, who must have locked themselves in a subterranean suite and emerged six months later, hissing at the sunlight, 10 Terrorists! is hot-wired with the most frenetic editing you’ll have ever seen in an Australian film. If you think that’s hyperbole, wait until your peepers absorb the heavy duty eyeball fornicating on display.
Like a reality TV program, 10 Terrorists! vies for attention through whatever means at hand: spectacle, bombast, explosions, set pieces, woozy edits, roaring audio effects, a relentless blast of stunts and zippy segments. It’s momentum is furiously fast and audiences who don’t like the film’s vibe will be ground to pulp. It keeps throwing everything at you: not convinced? Not sure? How about this. And this. And this. And this. And this. This. This. This. This. And this. On an aesthetic level, it’s impossible to get bored.
On a story and thematic level things aren’t as clear-cut. 10 Terrorists! is exposed to the style-over-substance argument, given it intentionally mirrors the desperation, depravity, cheap tactics and — to a lesser extent — exploitation reality TV programs embrace, which means it’s right down in the mud with the putridity it sends up. You could argue the entire exercise is self-defeating — and you certainly wouldn’t want to see more than a few of this kind of film — but 10 Terrorists! is also conscious of its drawbacks, and, perversely, perhaps even ashamed of its own content. The humour relies on an understanding that what is transpiring on screen is both deeply wrong and scarily close to home. Literally. It’s not too far removed from programs beamed into your lounge room.
Destined to be divisive, 10 Terrorists! is one of the most insanely relentless Australian films out there, baptised in the waters of mental moviemaking and packed full of grunt. For the Australian film industry it carries a sense of energy local audiences and critics aren’t prepared for, a hurricane of high voltage entertainment. It moves and it moves quick, and if you don’t like it, McLachlan doesn’t much care.
10 Terrorists! is playing every Friday night from March 29 – April 20 at Greater Union cinemas in Melbourne as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and will be theatrically released later this year.