A whole mess of very “Bad Behaviour” wreaks havoc in Joseph Sims’ feature debut, a black comedy about a fateful — and largely fatal — weekend for disparate Queenslanders. Sims’ twisty screenplay and punchy direction take the pic in the chronology-scrambled, multistrand directions of “Pulp Fiction,” “Go” and “Lantana,” in a very Aussie way. Theatrical export prospects are iffy, though enterprising distribs might want to take a gamble. Pic should build a cult following in offshore home-format sales.
Opening sequence sets a tone of sardonic surprise, as an unlucky Frenchman (Jean-Marc Manning) in an otherwise empty parking lot is lured into a supposedly stranded motorist’s vehicle. He finds himself at the mercy of young siblings Peterson (Lindsay Farris) and Emma (Caroline Levien) — and they’re not into mercy. As we eventually discover, they’re thrill-killers who murder random strangers to steal a car or squat in a private home for a few days.
Meanwhile, Ricky (“Wolf Creek” maniac John Jarratt, here playing just about the only nice guy onscreen) answers a latenight call from fellow cop Mark (Dwaine Stevenson), who has kidnapped the high school headmaster (Robert Coleby) who’s been having an affair with his shrewish teacher wife, Jennifer (Georgina Symes). Jennifer has been missing since the lovers’ last meeting, and frantic, angry Mark — still in love with his “cheating whore” of a spouse — must be reined back from violent retribution.
Other major players include a passel of drunken house-partying teenagers — including the cops’ respective kids — and an enforcer (Roger Ward) who arrives to put a stop to Emma and Peterson’s too-conspicuous criminal mayhem. Everyone’s paths collide, at one point or another, with some characters’ fates revealed well before we discover just how and why they occurred. Corpses pile up as the narrative puzzle pieces snap into place in satisfying, albeit macabre and gruesome, fashion.
Dialogue is sparky in a rude, frequently profane way that probably won’t make it the Australian Tourist Board’s hot title of 2011. Indeed, its crass, clever tenor won’t be for everyone by any means, despite sweet, larky and powerful moments amid the escalating mayhem. Particularly potent is Aussie institution Jarratt’s horrified reaction to some late discoveries of carnage, sounding closing notes of real gravity after so much humorously macabre content.
Perfs by a mixture of veterans and newcomers, as well as tech and design contributions, are perfectly tuned to a stylistically, tonally diverse high-wire act; one important sequence is a long, ecstatically romantic Steadicam pan, silent but for Luke McDonald’s effective score. Its ingenuity may be shallow as far as profundity goes, but “Bad Behaviour” certainly provides an assured, unpredictable ride.