×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Second’

A successful novelist on a weekend country fling with her publisher must relive a teenage trauma upon the arrival of her supposed former BFF.

Director:
Mairi Cameron
With:
Rachael Blake, Susie Porter, Vince Colosimo, Martin Sacks, Susan Prior

1 hour 34 minutes

“This is what happens when you make up stories,” one character says about three-fourths of the way through the confidently ambitious “The Second,” and the line is a succinct summation of the deceptively deep goings-on beneath the film’s faintly sordid surface. The maiden project developed and produced under the Screen Queensland Originals program in partnership with the streaming service Stan (the film is playing commercially now and will commence it’s Stan stand July 20), “The Second” is a sexy and satisfying thriller that toys with time, memory and the provocative side of storytelling.

In keeping with the mysterious spirit of the proceedings, shhh — no names, please: riding the crest of her well-received and best-selling erotic thriller, the Writer (Rachael Blake) is off to her family’s sprawling and regally laid-out country estate for a sex-fueled working weekend with her boyfriend the Publisher (Vince Colosimo). Soon after they settle in, the Writer announces the imminent arrival of her childhood friend the Muse (Susie Porter).

The two women seem to have a charged history involving secrecy and no little brinkmanship, which slowly reveals itself to the Publisher’s confusion and then chagrin. Not only that, but the provenance of the Writer’s best-seller comes into question, even as she struggles with a monumental and debilitating case of writers’ block on the new book for which everyone’s clamoring. To top things off, the film occasionally cuts to a police interrogation room, where the Writer is being grilled unmercifully by the Detective (Susan Prior) regarding some vague offense. This may or may not explain the presence of a sinister local known only as — and this is important — the Brother (Martin Sacks). What exactly is going on here?

Genuine and well-earned narrative uncertainty is a rare thing in cinema these days; the late French auteur Alain Resnais was perhaps the master of elasticizing memory and the past in his work (perhaps coincidentally, his first English language film, 1977’s Providence, stars John Gielgud as a dying novelist whose family become pawns in his fiction). The risks are real: keep the audience at too great a remove and filmmakers might lose them to indifference; give them too much information and, well, they’re either going to laugh the work off the screen or, in the current climate, make it a blockbuster.

Stephen Lance’s script and the rock-solid direction of Mairi Cameron (an industry vet making her feature debut) use the tried-and-true promise of a steamy three-way as a trojan horse to draw audiences into a world that turns out be more about the false starts, alternate realities and mounting frustrations of the creative process. That the Writer turns out to be a far more malevolent person than she initially lets on gives the filmmakers license to, for lack of a better word, Blumhouse the proceedings with just enough violence and mystery to keep viewers off-guard — and interested. In an art form of illusion, the filmmakers reason, narrative is fair game. And this is what happens when you make up stories.

The trio of leads do strong ensemble work, and the magnificent house, an actual estate some three hours west of Queensland’s capital, Brisbane, is an engaging character in and of itself. The strong tech credits belie the $740,000 budget and are a credit to the ingenuity of lead producer Leanne Tonkes.

Fitting use is made of Henry Kendall’s poem Bellbirds, and Animotion’s 1984 synth-pop hit Obsession, with Phillip Radford’s stylishly creative opening and closing credit sequences a distinctive plus.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'The Second'

Reviewed at Sydney Film Festival, June 9, 2018. Australian classification: MA 15+. Running time: 94 MIN.

Production: A Mind Blowing World release of a Screen Queensland, Stan Original, Screen Australia, Tangerine Entertainment, Mind Blowing World, The Post Lounge presentation of a Sense & Centsability, Dust Bunny production. Producers: Leanne Tonkes, Stephen Lance. Executive producers: Amy Hobby, Anne Hubbell, Nick Forward, Rob Gibson, John Molloy, Mitu Bhowmick Lange.

Crew: Director: Mairi Cameron. Screenplay: Stephen Lance. Camera (color, widescreen): Mark Wareham. Editor: Steve Cooper. Music: Ryan Walsh.

With: Rachael Blake, Susie Porter, Vince Colosimo, Martin Sacks, Susan Prior

More Film

  • 'Talking About Trees' Helmer Suhaib Gasmelbari

    'Talking About Trees' Director Suhaib Gasmelbari Receives Variety MENA Award

    Suhaib Gasmelbari, whose Sudanese documentary “Talking About Trees” premiered in the Berlinale’s Panorama section, received the Variety Middle East and North Africa Region Talent Award Saturday at the El Gouna Film Festival in Egypt from festival director Intishal Al Timimi. Variety critic Jay Weissberg, who selected the honoree, said that it is not usual that [...]

  • Josefina-Molina

    Josefina Molina: Still Battling After All These Years

    SAN SEBASTIAN  — She isn’t done yet. The battling character of Josefina Molina, winner of Spain’s 2019 National Cinematography Prize, was glimpsed in her acceptance speech at the San Sebastian Festival on Saturday. She used part to thank those who had given crucial help, such as, among women, editors Nieves Martin (1981’s “Función de Noche,” [...]

  • Suro

    Lastor, ‘The Endless Trench’s’ Irusoin, Malmo Team for Mikel Gurrea’s ‘Suro’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    SAN SEBASTIAN – Barcelona-based Lastor Media and Malmo Pictures have teamed with San Sebastian’s Irusoin to produce “Suro” (The Cork), the feature debut of Mikel Gurrea and a product of San Sebastian’s Ikusmira Berriak program. The film stars Laia Costa, who broke through with Sebastian Schipper’s “Victoria” and also serves as executive producer, and Pol López [...]

  • Ane

    Madrid’s ECAM Incubator Develops Terrorism Drama 'Ane'

    SAN SEBASTIAN — For the second year in a row, the ECAM Madrid Film School has paired a number of up-and-coming filmmakers with various industry veterans for an Incubator program part of the school broader development arm called The Screen. For its initial edition in 2018, this Incubator selected five feature projects, putting the selected [...]

  • Roma Cinematography

    'Mission: Impossible - Fallout' and 'Roma' Win LMGI Awards for Motion Pictures

    Two major 2018 releases – actioner “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” and critics’ darling “Roma” – were honored for film location work by the Location Managers Guild International at a ceremony this evening at the Eli & Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica. The 6th Annual LMGI Awards also recognized “Chernobyl” and “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” [...]

  • Soho House

    Soho House Lands In Downtown Los Angeles

    Warner Music, Spotify and Lyft are poised to welcome a new neighbor to downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District with Soho Warehouse, the third California outpost of the Hollywood-loved members-only club — and the largest North American opening to date. Hot on the heels of the Soho House Hong Kong debut earlier this summer, the private [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content