Tomorrow, When The War Began

When checking some facts on the Australian movie “Tomorrow, When the War Began”, I notice that it still hasn’t opened theatrically in the United States, something I find surprising, since this was the highest grossing movie of 2010 in Australia and very “American” in its approach. It opened here in Sweden on April 8, and the same day it played a festival in the States.  

“Tomorrow, When the War Began”, which is based on a novel by John Marsden which I haven’t read or even heard of, turned out to be quite different from what I had expected, especially since it for some reason opened in an art house theater in the city where I live. You see, this is some kind of Australian version of the good old American 1980s actioner “Red Dawn”! (“Red Down Under”?!) It’s been ages since I last saw teenagers shooting communists.     

It begins with the idyllic countryside. The Australian Dream (if there is such a thing) shows itself from its best side, with a nice small town, big farms, sunny landscapes, manly blond men shovelling hay and taking care of critters and so on. And then we’re introduced to 18-year-old Ellie (the very pretty Caitlin Stasey) and her best friend Corrie (Rachel Hurd-Wood). For some reason they decide they’re going camping in the wilderness for a few days along with some other youngsters. But who are they going to ask to join them?   

  Apparently, Ellie and Corrie have very few friends, since they call and invite a bunch of people they hardly know — and all of them are of course completely different types and would never hang out together in real life. Together they represent seven classic movie clichés. Besides some guy Corrie has the hots for, they round up a somewhat criminal guy of Greek heritage (he kind of looks like a combination of Rambo a the guy working at the pizza joint down the street), a blonde, rich bimbo (who brings her make-up kit), a deeply religious girl, and a pianist who works in his parents Chinese restaurant. The only thing they have in common is that they’re photogenic. Except for the religious one, who’s dull and has very thick legs. Together they stumble around in the woods and they enjoy a cheerful, fun time.   But during one night, they see a whole lot of fighter planes, dozens of them, passing above them (a very suggestive scene). They return back home. Not only do they find Ellie’s dog lying dead in the garden, Ellie’s home is empty. Nobody’s there. And the homes of the other youngsters also turn out to be abandoned. Where is everybody?   Well, while our happy go lucky main characters were camping, Australia was invaded by an anonymous foreign nation. The Australians are held captive in a camp in the middle of the town. At first, Ellie and her friends try to escape, but they realize there’s only one thing to do: fight back! So, the teenagers, who of course lack military training and hardly have held a gun before, arm themselves and become rebels.    “Tomorrow, When the War Began” is the directorial debut of Stuart Beattie, a man previously known as a screenwriter and who as such has been involved with a long string of blockbusters like “Pirates of the Caribbean”. I missed the press screening of this movie, so I had to attend the regular opening screening in a very small theater and there was just a handful of people in the audience.   When we for the first time got to see the invading forces and how cruel they treat their prisoners, one guy in the audience left the screening and didn’t return. Even if you never learn from where the troops come, you immediately make assumptions. The soldiers have Asian features — and it’s hard not to think of North Korea. In “Red Dawn” it was Russians. North Koreans feel logic. But the language they speak is made up. Maybe the guy who left the screening thought it was upsetting making the enemies ethnic. After all, Nazis are always better enemies: white, racist West Europeans are better to hate and shoot at, more P.C. so to speak.   Some of the action scenes are really cool and bombastic with massive explosions and stuff. One scene where the teenagers hide in a house during nighttime while a helicopter circle around it is thrilling for real. But most of the times, the story and action scenes are just silly — in a pretty wonderful way. Like when Ellie’s driving a truck around and around and around in the town while being chased by the enemies — who drive some kind of dune-buggies armed with machine guns! They look like they come from a Mad Max movie. Suddenly Beattie’s movie reminds me of the all-time classic “Invasion U.S.A.” — the only thing missing is Chuck Norris, dressed in jeans from head to toe and wearing gloves, showing up saying “Time to die!”.         The pacing is a little too uneven. Sometimes there are long pauses when our heroes just sit down and discuss things, and often talk about different subjects than the tough situation they’ve ended up in. They talk about love and relations. One girl reads a book and says it’s better than the movie version of it and Ellie comments “Books usually are” — hm, is Stuart Beattie, who’s also written the screenplay, criticizing himself?   For once, the teenagers aren’t played by 30-year-olds. At least the actresses are just marginally older than 18, the guys are a little older. And “Tomorrow, When the War Began” should become a hit among teenage audiences. This is a kind of old-fashioned but very typical teenage actioner. It may be stupid and very clichéd, but I found this pretty fun and entertaining. Heck, it’s brand new 1980s action flick! And a sequel is on its way.  

Images copyright (c) UIP Sweden