TWO HEADS CREEK (2019)
A timid butcher and his drama queen twin sister quit post-Brexit Britain and adventure to Australia in search of their birth mother... but the seemingly tolerant townsfolk are hiding a dark, meaty secret.
Australia doesn’t have an abundance of native horror films, but they’ve managed to produce quality features over the years. Surprisingly, Aussie horror films were practically non-existent before the 1970s, but after the release of Terry Bourke’s Night of Fear (1972) and Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), the genre started to gain traction. It was during the 1970s and ’80s when the Australian film industry underwent a resurgence known as the ‘Australian New Wave’, later dubbed ‘Ozploitation’ by Quentin Tarantino after Mark Hartley’s 2008 documentary Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild Story Of Ozploitation!
Low-budget, scuzzy, and bone-crunchingly violent, the original Ozploitation movement ended in the late-’80s. However, recently, several Aussie genre flicks have made a huge global impact: Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek (2005) made us afraid of the outback once again, while Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook (2014) showed us a skin-crawling horror that starts at home. After his low-budget sci-fi adventure Arrowhead (2016), director Jesse O’Brien takes his Ozploitation sensibilities and offers a modern take on the genre. Under the guise of a bloody horror-comedy, Two Heads Creek garishly pokes fun at Australian stereotypes whilst offering a sharply satirical take on anti-immigration.
Set in a post-Brexit Britain, Norman (Jordan Waller) works in the family’s Polish deli, located in a neighbourhood full of British Nationalists. He deals with constant harassment and graffiti from out of control teens. After the death of his mother, his twin sister Annabelle (Kathryn Wilder) shows up looking for a handout. While going through their mother’s items, they soon discover a secret: that they were adopted and actually both originate from a small town in Australia known as Two Heads Creek. And so the siblings fly to the middle of nowhere to find their real mother, only to instead find a group of locals with a taste for human flesh. Once the two discover the town’s occupied by a clan of cannibals, they not only have to solve the mystery of their missing matriarch but also stay off the menu.
Making his feature scriptwriting debut, Jordan Waller takes a remarkable left turn from his work on the UK TV series Victoria (2016-19). As the timid butcher Norman, he’s the gullible half of the unsuspecting twins. As the deadpan receiver of most comedy situations, his affable and straight-laced demeanour echoes Hugh Grant (Four Weddings and a Funeral), making his character instantly likeable. Opposite Waller is the fetching Kathryn Wilder (Ready Player One) as his feisty twin sister, Annabelle. She’s a fiery, tough-talking wannabe actress and current poster girl for a laxatives company. The interplay between the siblings generates some hilarious one-liners. Upon seeing the garish eyeshadow on mother’s corpse, Annabelle remarks “who did her make up? Liza Minelli?” Waller and Wilder are able to pull off their roles in such a charming manner. Both have inspired screen presence and feel believable as twins.
Additionally, the ensemble is filled with well-known faces from Australian TV. Helen Dallimore (Into the Woods) shines in all aspects of her role as Apple, the matriarch of the cannibals, giving an inspired performance with a murderous psychotic twist. She allows the character to be completely OTT in all the best ways possible, whether marshalling her cannibalistic troops or drinking a “nice chianti”, the actress is clearly having a blast.
Newcomer David Adlam practically steals every scene as the idiotic man-child Eric, too. His joyously disturbed presentation of the character and the cadaver playmate scene is perfect for this type of black comedy. Further, a clear highlight has to be Stephen Hunter (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) as Clive. He presents some of the best comedic elements, such as his hilarious obsession with Feng Shui that’s so out of place given the setting. Each actor injects their performance with a sense of hysterical lunacy.
Director O’Brien brilliantly compliments Waller’s laugh-out-loud script with equally humorous and visceral imagery. From the opening scene, there are stylistic nods towards Ozploitation flicks like Wake in Fright (1971) and 1000 Bloody Acres (2012). However, Two Heads Creek doesn’t completely mimic those influences. Instead, the director uses them to subtly heighten the humorous tone in the heavier scenes. The pacing never falters in speed or urgency as O’Brien bounces around different forms of comedy with ease. Sight gags, deadpan delivery, and slapstick are all showcased numerous times throughout Two Heads Creek’s breezy 85-minute runtime. Every other minute we are treated to either a joke or a good bout of blood, that moves the story and characters along heartedly. Despite the predictability of the plot, Two Heads Creek ends up being rather charming. O’Brien’s direction really raises the material up to something akin to Looney Toons or Monty Python.
On a technical level, the way scenes are edited and the transitions between them give Two Heads Creek its own personality. Digby Hogan’s (Performance Anxiety) use of expeditious editing echoes that of Edgar Wright’s Shaun Of The Dead (2004). Samuel Baulch’s (Quanta) cinematography is also breathtakingly dark and unnerving, maintaining a mysterious and suspenseful atmosphere. The environment perfectly captures the essence of rural Australia; in particular, a sunset and sunrise scene drenches the screen in a beautiful hue. The semi-abandoned town and rural outback look like it could segue into The Hills Have Eyes (1977) territory at any moment. All of this is neatly tied together with an old-school soundtrack compiled of early-1960s Normie Rowe. Which surprisingly works given the feature a comedic, fast-paced style.
Personally, I’ve always been a fan of Australia and New Zealand comedy. They have a fine tradition of mixing comedy and horror to superb effect. Whether it’s the early stylings of Peter Jackson with Bad Taste (1987) and Brain Dead (1992) or recent efforts such as Primal (2019) and Little Monsters (2019), comedy and horror from Down Under always walks a fine line between laughs and scares. O’Brien’s sophomore effort is no different. Two Heads Creek becomes something of an Aussie hybrid of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and Motel Acacia (2019), although gorehounds may have to wait for the bone-crunching to begin. All of the intestine slurping fun is well crafted, with enjoyable practical FX and healthy amounts of fake blood. The final act is a wild mix of severed genitalia and inventive decapitations. And one can’t forget to mention the Big Boy 3000, a meat-grinder that resembles the pie-making machine from Chicken Run (2000). However, this one chews up and spits out humans, mincing them into a gloriously gory pulp. O’Brien’s blend of slapstick humour and body horror clearly echoes of vintage Jackson.
The comedy in Two Heads Creek flies at you like a can of XXXX, occasionally hitting the right mark. The gross-out gags are both verbal and physical, while the comedy is mainly played for shock value giggles. Incestuous intimations are made along with a bestiality joke or two as Uncle Morris (Don Bridges) eyes up a pig’s backside. Admittedly, it may not be to everyone’s taste, but due to the sheer volume of jokes, many will be hard-pressed not to chuckle before the credits roll. Regardless, it’s not all low-brow comedy. Though refreshingly clever in places, much of the humour is at the expense of Australia and their homeland. The script covers classic cultural cliches like boomerangs, cricket bats, and even callbacks to Crocodile Dundee (1986). There’s also interludes of surprisingly dry and witty comedy. One extended sequence pokes fun at the difference between “Yeah-nah” and “Nah-yeah” and the sometimes idiosyncratic Australian slang.
Waller’s screenplay takes digs at both Australia’s and Britain’s current issues with immigration and xenophobia. Whether it’s the Brits abusing European workers that keep their country afloat, or the Australians denying the Aboriginal roots of the land they stand on. Two Heads Creek handles the rise of nationalism with its tongue placed firmly in its cheek. A prime example of this poignant humour occurs early on with Apple, a white tour guide in Australia, giving a speech to a group of tourists, saying “this is a nation of immigrants, without you, or me, no one would be here”. The camera then quickly pans to an unimpressed expression of the Aboriginal bus driver. Race-based humour can be dangerous territory, but here it specifically comes from characters designed to be xenophobic caricatures. Waller’s script never points the finger at who’s to blame… instead, he highlights the hypocrisy of internalised racism.
Amongst the well-crafted humour, there’s also a serious side to Two Heads Creek. Underlying the gimmicks and gore is a clear message that the true horror we face comes from the hate and division woven into the fabric of our culture. Australian governments have a long-standing practice of locking up refugees in offshore detention centres. Similarly, the cannibals of the fictional town Two Heads Creek only chose ethnic groups to be their victims. The crucial turning point is during the celebration of the controversial festival, Australia Day. During the cannibalistic feast, Apple delivers an incredible rendition of Skyhooks’ famous song “Horror Movie”. As limbs are served on a platter, the lyrics “underneath your skin, there’s no racial divide” play over the top. Although it’s a little heavy-handed, the message of our differences being skin deep is worth absorbing and is just as relevant now as ever.
Overall, Jesse O’Brien and Jordan Waller have created a blood-soaked satire of Australia’s dark underbelly. The comedy style won’t be to everyone’s taste, but fans of early Peter Jackson and Monty Python will enjoy its familiar blend of slapstick humour and gore. As an insane take on our dangerously ridiculous society, it excels at presenting a tale about humanity and how we need to get over our differences. Two Heads Creek isn’t quite on the same level as Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2011) or Shaun of the Dead, but it’s a welcomed entry into the genre from the land Down Under.
UK • AUSTRALIA | 2019 | 85 MINUTES | 2.35:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
writer & director: Jesse O’Brien.
starring: Kerry Armstrong, Gary Sweet, Kathryn Wilder, Stephen Hunter, Jordan Waller, Don Bridges, Kevin Harrington, Helen Dallimore & David Adlam.