MIFF Review: Undertow

Miranda Nation’s directorial debut joins the long line of Australian cinema focusing on white women in trauma. Fearless in its approach of such very heady and evocative material, Undertow occasionally slips into melodrama but is wholly saved by the breakout star-making turn from lead Laura Gordon. She is absolute dynamite!

If the cinema of Australia over the past twenty years were an accurate reflection on real life, you’d just hate to be a white woman – it’s a life of sheer emotional trauma. From films like Blessed, Beautiful Kate, The Daughter, The Babadook, Lantana, Look Both Ways, Somersault, Candy, Sleeping Beauty, Little Fish, Japanese Story etc it’s all incest, drug abuse, terminal, illness, set fire to the kids in a bin, prostitution, drug dealing and emotional savagery. With Nation’s addition Undertow, she brings miscarriages into the mix.

It’s modern day Geelong, and heavily pregnant photo-journalist Claire (Gordon) is driving herself to the hospital after an episode of heavy bleeding. Desperate to get a hold of her husband Dan (Rob Collins), Claire has to endure the tension unaccompanied as he is holed up on an apartment partying on with his mates.
Claire miscarries the unborn child…..

We pick things up a year later, Claire is grappling with her grief, she feels disconnected form her husband, and to further her worries Dan’s footballer best friend Matt (John Helman) is embroiled in a burgeoning disaster involving sex with a minor Angie (Olivia DeJonge). As Claire suspects things are not all as they seem, her investigation into things only exacerbate her own paranoia.

There is darkly focused stuff running around the heart of Undertow and the film lives and dies by your willingness to accept Claire. Thankfully, you should given how gutsy and full throttle Laura Gordon throws herself into Claire. It’s a fearless performance of a woman who is crumbling in the face of grief and paranoia. A woman who can’t accept that she is just as culpable as her perceived villains. And Gordon nails it!

Undertow is an call, too, of a great new feature directing talent in Miranda Nation. It’s makes sense given the assured shorts she’s made in years past, but Nation’s handling here of such heady material is assured.

Mention must be made, too, of Bonnie Elliot’s sumptuous cinematography. The Victorian coast and Geelong itself has never looked so lush. Undertow is gorgeous to look at from opening frame to close.

There’s so much to be impressed by in Undertow. It’s a polished and handsome debut feature that’s be sensitively directed and beautifully shot. It’s absolute trump card is the fearless performance from its lead Laura Gordon and, for those bold enough to slip under the covers with it, you should find plenty to talk about afterwards.

★★★1/2

UNDERTOW screens at MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018