A critical film review by Michelle Brown
Director: Martin Murphy
Scriptwriter: Stephen Sewell
Cast: (in alphabetical order)
Leon Ford: Gary
Charlie Garber: Brad
Lenka Kripac: Emily
Steve Le Marquand: Zippo
Alexandra (Alex) Vaughan: Tracey
Emily’s Mum: Annie Byron
Brad’s Mum: Vanessa Downing
Emily’s Dad: George Whaley
Producer: Ian Iveson
Music/Composer: Garlo Giacco
Sound Design: Andrew Belletty
Cinematography: Justine Kerrigan
Editors: Benita Carey/Karen Johnson
Production Designer: Karla Urizar
Costume Designer: Theresa Jackson
- Agenda Film Production
- ISM Films
- Cinemavault Releasing International
- Madacy Entertainment
France 17 May 2003 (Cannes Film Market)
UK 29 October 2003 (Raindance Film Festival)
UK 24 April 2004 (Dead by Dawn Edinburgh Horror Film Festival)
UK 9 May 2004 (Commonwealth Film Festival)
Germany 9 August 2004 (Cologne Fantasy Film Festival)
Germany 13 August 2004 (Hamburg Fantasy Filmfest)
Spain 8 September 2004 (video premiere)
Australia 1 November 2004 (Popcorn Taxi)
Australia 11 November 2004 (New South Wales)
Australia 9 December 2004 (Victoria)
Finland 29 March 2006 (DVD premiere)
Although Lost Things (Murphy, M. 2004) was a low budget film, there seems to be a fair amount of material available on the web. There are a lot of film reviews, cast and crew professional history, comments about the horror genre, and how this film creates something new and intriguing. What seemed to be lacking was material that went behind the scenes or into the cast and crews mind. There were only a few interviews with crew available, and one of them could only be read with a particular membership. Although there was a lack of material from the filmmaker’s perspective, Lost Things (Murphy, M. 2004) seems to have generated a large audience response.
Bibliography of Interviews with Filmmakers:
(Gold Movie Club Membership needed)
Bibliography of Reviews:
Bibliography of Cast/Crew Professional History:
Martin Murphy: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0614497/
Stephen Sewell: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0786601/
Ian Iveson: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1202998/
Justine Kerrigan: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0449864/
Steve Le Marquand: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0494424/
Lenka Kripac: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0471387/
Charlie Garber: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1375137/
Leon Ford: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1026031/
Alexandra (Alex) Vaughan: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1381936/
Emily: Hey guys, Brad feels like he’s been here before!
Gary: Great, get him in here and he can navigate.
(Murphy, M. Lost Things. 2004)
Lost Things (Murphy, M. 2004) is an Australian film that follows four teenagers who are heading out on a trip to a secluded beach for a weekend of adventure and discovery. Their fun soon disappears as they find they are not the only ones on the beach, and that their dreams are turning into nightmares. The film follows Brad, Emily, Tracey and Gary, who have just finished school and are setting off to celebrate the beginning of their lives. It looks at the humorous side of teenage antics as the boys fumble around the mysteries of love and sex, in the setting of the relentless ocean pounding eternally before them. Aware at first only of their own pressing concern and insecurities, they find to their horror that there is something even stranger awaiting them. As they struggle with the growing alarm of déjà vu and the feeling that their fate has something to do with the beach. They are caught in a weird riddle that slowly unravels. Confronted by destiny in the form of the strange beachcomber Zippo each of them must choose, and in choosing, choose forever the meaning of their lives.
After watching Lost Things (Murphy, M. 2004) it is clear that this type of film is one you will keep thinking about long after your first screening. Audiences will benefit from watching it a second time as the details are all important. The props are as minimal as the background. A ring, a withered bouquet of flowers, a menacing vandalised mannequin buried in the sand, a diary and the strange collection of medieval books and drawings in Zippo’s nest. The desire of the director and writer to strip back the story, characters and setting to the essentials, gives it a type of David Lynch feel. At times I think this minimal approach goes too far, especially with the character Emily, who we find out is central to the story. At times Emily’s character lacks depth, and further information into her background would help figure out the narrative. Although audiences may need to ask themselves is there a reason why the director and script writer wanted Emily to be perceived this way. Lost Things (Murphy, M. 2004) uses the non-linear narrative used in films such as Memento to take the plot and turn it back on itself.
The beach is one of those great sweeping Aussie beaches that go for ever, with pure white sand, which is used as a metaphor for the characters innocence and purity. The beach rather then inducing a sense of freedom in the wide open space creates a feeling of isolation and loneliness. There is so much space that the characters are forced to realise their insignificance and lack of power. The bush creates a claustrophobic feel as if it could wrap itself around the characters. These feelings are all conveyed through the setting and this is due to the fine work of the cinematographer. Justine Kerrigan uses colour and strategic camera angles to create the natural and the complete alien. In the diverse shots of shifting sand, relentless rolling waves, eye catching, even shocking images are created. Many of the best thrills come from the editing; it’s as if the setting becomes another character in the film with a story of its own.
The soundtrack is fantastic with is combination of natural sounds and unsettling noises and eerie music by Carlo Giacco. The music is never overpowering, and is not used to signal dramatic action, but complements the narrative in an ominous way adding to the illusion and suspense of the film.
Lost Things (Murphy, M. 2004) uses characters that are naturalistic and honest. Stephen Sewell writes the way teenagers talk, the dialogue is true to teenagers, yet promotes the unique Australian sense of humour, showing quirkiness to its characters.
Lost Things (Murphy, M. 2004) was invited to a number of film festivals during its release, and was received positively from festival audiences. In 2003 Lost things appeared at the Oldenburg International Film Festival.
“This film is different: ‘Lost Things’ is a real surprise from Australia, a subtle and intelligent thriller that gets your adrenaline rushing and your heart pumping but does so very slowly. The characters are rich, complex and shrouded in dark mysteries, despite their youth they give philosophical component to the genre. Nietzsche tells us that the same things always return and this picture is out to prove his theory by showing that there is no escape. A thoughtful and entertaining play with clichés and conventions of the horror-genre.” (Press Kit. 2003. P6)
In 2004 similar reviews were published from the Dead by Dawn Film Festival, Edinburgh. “Claustrophobic, creepy and totally compelling, an absolute gem.” (Press Kit. 2003. P7) The Film Asylum reported “Lost Things has that unsettling, true-to-life feel of the Blair Witch Project” (Press Kit. 2003. P7)
The film received praise from the festivals, which tended to highlight the effectiveness of the unsettling true to life feel. Many film goers were expecting another dumb teen slasher horror, and were relatively surprised by the intriquette work of the small cast and crew. The negative reviews were due to a lack of resolution; horror genres have this annoying habit of unanswered questions and with the director’s minimal approach, many viewers blamed the ambiguity on the minimal setting, characters and story.
“I am drawn to the genre of Horror because I find that it has the capacity to ask the big questions while still taking me on a dark rollercoaster ride to whatever bleak inevitability the story may have in store. I enjoy the ride, like any horror fan, and I love those stories that resonate in the midnight of my soul and make me a little spooked about the place that I might otherwise have taken for granted. This is what I wanted to do with Lost Things. My producer Ian Iveson put me the challenge- ‘Can you turn a bright and sunny Australian Beach into a place of utter terror?’ I looked at Stephen Sewell, who was ready for anything, and I said yes.”(Press Kit, 2003, P2)
Director Martin Murphy talked about his love for the horror genre, and the challenges he enjoyed tackling while making the film. Writer Stephen Sewell had an interesting insight into genre and what the production team was trying to create in the film Lost Things (Murphy, M. 2004).
“Many people complain that genre is the lowest common denominator of mass entertainment. The complaint that genre has become predictable and formulaic is an important one and filmmakers are quite right to be wary of simply becoming the handle-turners of a dead machine, and so Marty, Ian and I saw our challenge as re-invigorating and re-discovering the startling truths that genre once conveyed. For truth is what all art, including cinematic art is about, and if it’s not about that, it’s not about anything at all. Lost Things is the result. A suspense-horror film, we wanted to abandon the cheap thrills that genre has become lost in and re-enter the world of Edgar Alan Poe and Lovecraft, where death isn’t the ultimate terror.’ (Press Kit. 2003. P 3-4)
Horror is a central figure in our world, when considering recent events in our society and looking at how fragile our own life is, it is hard not to be horrified. Beyond the simple biological facts of pain, suffering, disease and decay are the psychological truths of loss, loneliness, bereavement and fear. These are all truths of our existence that classic horror places centre stage. Questions about meaning and significance take priority, and it is these truths which have become obscured in Hollywood’s relentless drive to reinforce the status quo.
At the core of this production was relationships formed at the Australia Film Television Radio School (AFTRS). The Director, Director of Photography, Editors, Designers and Composers all worked at the film school and got to see each others talents grow during various short film productions. For some of the cast and crew working on Lost Things (Murphy, M. 2004) was their first experience on a feature film, as many had only done theatre, television or short film work. As the crew was quite small in relation to other feature films, everyone did various roles besides from their credited jobs. This type of help and collaboration created a family atmosphere, where crew and cast lived together in three rented apartments. Writers carried props, production managers lugged camera gear, and everyone lent a hand when needed. As Martin Murphy states on the Lost Things DVD commentary, ‘People disappear all the time’ (Murphy, M. 2004). The crew found a beach location that felt like a bad place, this was a place you could bury a body if you were that way inclined. Besides from the two opening scenes, the whole film was shot on location at Tuggerah Beach, on the central coast of NSW in two weeks. This beach was perfect to use as an iconographical element of Australian cultural life, as a scene of horror.
Lost Things (Murphy, M. 2004) was released in Australia on the 11th November, 2004, considering its a small scale production with a very limited budget, the film did not have as much marketing power in regards to the blockbuster films it was competing with.
“A total of 318 films were released in the Australian Cinema market in 2004, an increase of 50 on the previous year. 302 (95 percent) of these films were international titles, up from last years 245.” (AFC. 2005. P2)
This means that sixteen new Australian films were released in 2004; four were documentaries, meaning that twelve were feature films. When comparing this small figure to other countries we begin to see the difference, the UK made twenty two films, the US made two hundred films and countries other than Australia, US and UK made eighty films. This means that Lost Things (Murphy, M. 2004) would have been relatively unknown and a small bleep on the radar. Lost Things (Murphy, M. 2004) tried to obtain filming grants from the Australian Film Commission and many other sources, but were unsuccessful, many of the cast and crew waved their fees, and it was estimated that Lost Things (Murphy, M. 2004) was made for well under $1 million. In comparison to the top Australian and American films of 2004, this is when we begin to see a vast contrast, and why Lost Things (Murphy, M. 204) is a relatively unknown film. Strange Bedfellows (Murphy, D. 2004) was the top Australian film grossing $4.8 million. The AFI rated The Aviator (Scorsese, M. 2005) as the top American film, making $8,644,423 million at the box office. All of these films had relatively large budgets and The Aviator (Scorsese, M. 2005) used large scale special effects. These films used actors such as Leonardo Dicaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, Paul Hogan and Michael Caton, who are all well known and accomplished actors. It is easy to see why Lost Things (Murphy, M. 2004) may have been lost amongst the releases of that year.
It is fair to say that Lost Things (Murphy, M. 2004) is a suspense horror film. After watching the film audiences would have noted the same thing, most of the film takes place in the bright sun. The film aims to create fear in the ideal holiday location.
“Horror within the harshlights instead of the shadows. We used the harsh sun to our advantage by bleaching out the background. We focused on washed out colours of the environment. The location could be beautiful yet hard and terrible at the same time.” (Press Kit. 2003. P5)
The production team based the set design around the theme of decay. This is how they turned a bright sunny location into a haunting creepy place. Props were chosen for the aged look, everything looked as though it had been left out in the sun and rain for years, and this was followed through in the wardrobe, where all the clothes looked as though they were beginning to fall apart.
“The biggest challenge for the art department was to somehow create a feeling towards the end of the film that the beach had turned into a sort of hell on earth, and after following up various ideas we decided on a much understated surreal set that was made up entirely of red painted poles” (Press Kit. 2003. P6)
Even though a minimal approach was used throughout the production, the key pieces used, highlighted a creepiness that existed at the beach night or day; it was as if the doom feeling never left, like the new day could not wash it away.
“If the suspense thriller can be oriented around time, then it can also be confined to a particular setting. An isolated region well away from civilisation is an obvious setting for this kind of narrative. At least two films, The Long Weekend (1977) and Lost Things (2004) have chosen the lonely Australian beach as the site of suspense thrillers that border on the edge of the fantastic and the horror film.” (Moran & Vieth. 2006. P169)
In Lost Things (Murphy, M. 2004) the setting is an important part of the film, it creates a vibe and presence all of its own. The characters make constant remarks as to how hard the beach is to find, and at one point Brad tells Emily he feels like he has been here before. This conversation is used as a foreshadowing technique, for the events that follow, and relates to the overall meaning of the film. Their isolation and remoteness adds to the suspense and eerie feeling that is a heavy undertone throughout the whole film.
Horror is often put into an overarching category that joins fantasy and science fiction to the horror form.
“The common thread that links the genres, which makes them all apart of the fantastic, is hesitation. The Russian formalist, Tzvetan Todorov, wrote about the fantastic as establishing ‘that hesitation experienced by a person who knows only the laws of nature, confronting an apparently supernatural event.’ Hesitation is the crux: either total faith or total incredulity would lead us beyond the fantastic; it is hesitation that sustains its life. The viewer reaches a point where disbelief is almost suspended, but it is the ‘almost’, the pause, that marks this branch of the narrative film.” (Moran & Vieth. 2006. P102)
The concern with the four characters is amplified by the hesitation to explain everything. As their reality becomes distorted, the more emotional and irrational the characters become. The characters dis-ese is magnified, as they begin to make sense of the havoc that has fallen upon them, the hesitation is felt when the characters are caught between natural and supernatural explanations for the occurrences. This hesitation of coming to terms with their fate is played with by director Martin Murphy, and by the end of the film only some characters have come to terms with the supernatural phenomenon, while others look for alternative explanations.
To finish this review of Lost Things (Murphy, M. 2004) this reviewer would like to offer her own thoughts of the meaning of the film (feel free to disagree, as there are many meanings). At the very beginning of Lost Things (Murphy, M. 2004) we see flashes of Zippo and Emily meeting each other, with a telephone conversation playing over the top between Emily and Tracey. Tracey makes reference to the new age stuff Emily has become involved with, and asks who she has been seeing. Emily makes out as if she is not seeing anyone, and comments that she is just changing, and that its not new age stuff, its just natural forces. This reviewer would like to propose that Zippo and Emily were secretly seeing each other, and getting involved in a type of witchcraft. Emily is not happy with Brad anymore but feels obligated to go on the camping trip, because of Tracey; hence why she picked the location, as she could also see Zippo. Zippo intrudes and creates an uneasy feeling within the group, and this is the first time we see the connection between Zippo and Emily. This would explain Emily’s disappearances, as these could be liaisons with Zippo. I think Emily and Zippo have been messing around with what Emily calls natural forces, and have changed the natural order of things. Zippo gets more and more jealous and his attics to ruin their holiday get out of control, and Zippo is accidently stabbed. Thinking they have killed him they bury him, when he is not really dead and he comes back feeling betrayed and seeking revenge. This would make sense of the scene towards the end of the film, when Brad interrupts Zippo having sex with Emily on the beach. Another point to my reasoning, is when Brad and Emily see Brad’s mum, Emily tells Brad that know one can hear us anymore. Zippo was able to hear them, which means that he is apart of the nightmare and is also dead. He promised Emily freedom, but now all she sees is Brad, a constant reminder of what she has done, and is doomed to repeat forever.
A.F.C. (2005). 2004 Box Office Backgrounder: Summary version, 27 January 2005. Retrieved April 19, 2007, from http://www.afc.gov.au/downloads/policies/short%202004%20box%20office_final.pdf
The Aviator. (Martin Scorsese. 2005)
Blair Witch Project. (Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez. 1999)
Gillard, G. (2004). Ten Types of Australian Film. Perth: Murdoch University Press. P101-115.
Hoskin, D. (2004). Edgy & Experimental & Weird: A conversation with Martin Murphy and Ian Iveson. Retrieved April 19, 2007, from http://www.tabula-rasa.info/AusHorror/LostThingsInterview.html
IMDB. (2007). Lost Things. Retrieved April 19, 2007, from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0366726/fullcredits
Infoplease. (2000). American Film Institute’s Top 10 Films of the Year. Retrieved April 24, 2007, from http://www.infoplease.com/ipea/a0878236.html
ISM Films. (2003). Lost Things: Press Kit. Retrieved April 19, 2007, from http://thecia.com.au/reviews/I/images/lost-things.pdf
Memento. (Christopher Nolan. 2000)
Moses, A. (2004). Lost Things. Retrieved April 19, 2007, from http://www.smh.com.au/news/Reviews/Lost-Things/2004/11/10/1100021865346.html
Moran, A & Vieth, E. (2006). Film in Australia an Introduction. Australia: Cambridge University Press. P169.
Strange Bedfellows. (Dean Murphy. 2004)
Stratton, D. (2007). At the Movies: Lost Things. Retrieved April 19, 2007, from http://www.abc.net.au/atthemovies/txt/s1237117.htm