Coffin Rock

Rob (Robert Taylor) and Jess (Lisa Chappell) are happily married, living in a coastal resort and enjoying their lives with friends and working with the sea. The only dark spot in their relationship is the issue of children – they’ve been trying for three years (each carries an alarm clock, to signify when ovulation is at its peak and there’s an amusing sequence where each makes their way home, with everyone who passes saying “beep-beep?”) with no success – Jess is in full working order and it’s Rob who seems to be the weaker link.

One night, after a vicious argument, Jess gets drunk and winds up with Evan (Sam Parsonson), a drifter who we – the viewer – already knows is unhinged; he was the receptionist at the fertility clinic they visited and has conversations with his dad. After a bit of rough sex, which Jess stops, Evan gets completely the wrong idea and when Jess discovers she’s pregnant, he moves from being slightly unhinged, to stalker, to psychopath, convinced the child will be his.

This is tagged as being from the producer of Wolf Creek, which kind of sets it up for a bruising (depending on your opinion of the harrowing Greg Mclean feature). It does share some aspects – the naturalism, the casual brutality –

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but it’s a completely different kettle of fish. If anything, this would be most easily compared to Fatal Attraction – unhinged person, drawn to one-night-stand, determined to possess a conquest – but even that would be unfair, as this is grittier and better realised than that.

The film looks good, with a nice use of the Australian locations – we rarely get sunny days, the sky is often cloudy, it rains, and the sea dictates matters. Following this naturalism are the performances, all of which work very well from the key roles, right down to the smaller parts (Jess’ friend, who is involved in a violent altercation with Evan but comes away from it, though her different attitude to Jess is wonderfully played). Chappell is probably the standout, with her portrayal of the desperate Jess (up to the one-night-stand) recognisable to anyone who’s ever had trouble conceiving and the slow unravelling of her life, as Evan ingratiates himself, shows clearly across her face.

There is violence in the film but, like the brief sex scene, is handled in such a way that you don’t really want to see everything anyway. At one point, Evan holds a stick against the face of his assumed love-rival and you know what’s going to happen, you hope it won’t, then the camera cuts to another angle and you just get the sound effect. It’s very well done. The camerawork is interesting – a steadicam operator is credited at the end, but everything that isn’t static (and some of those static shots are quite beautifully composed) looks like they’re handheld and sometimes it’s difficult to see what’s going on.

The pace of Coffin Rock is pitched just right, with the tension slowly rising as Jess realises that things are amiss and occasional red herrings (like the love rival) and if the film touches on melodrama towards the climax, you sort of forgive it because, really, how else would it work? Having said that, I’ve never seen such a gripping sequence before of someone releasing a handbrake!

I did have a couple of issues with the film overall. I don’t know if it was the transfer, but occasionally the image would almost appear to breathe, as if there were different layers that move independently of each other, which was quite off-putting. There’s also a terrible sound effect, which I assume was meant to be a generator in the fish-farm, which renders a lot of the dialogue obsolete. Small issues, certainly and neither detract from a gripping, low-key thriller that does exactly what it’s supposed to. I wish I knew what ‘coffin rock’ signified though.

There were no extras on my screener copy, but a ‘making of’ might have been nice.