Re-Living off the Land (2009)
By: Paul Ryan on December 7, 2009  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
Poster Art
Directors: Simon Best, Paul Murphy
Starring: Simon Best, Paul Murphy, Wally DeBacker, Richard Franklin
Screenplay: Simon Best, Paul Murph
Country: Australia
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Years ago, teenage pals Simon Best and Paul Murphy attempted to make their own low-budget slasher film, titled Living off the Land, which was ultimately abandoned after a single day's shooting. Now all grown up, Paul decides to get the gang together to remount the production. Following a failed (to put it mildly) attempt to court the interest of noted Aussie director Richard Franklin, Paul turns to the original director, Simon, now a film school dropout and video store staffer. Using the exact same script they wrote as kids, the pair manage to reenlist original co-star Ben Spaull, but there's a slight problem in bringing back another of their actors, one Wally De Backer, who has now reinvented himself as a acclaimed musician under the name Gotye. Undeterred, the pair presses ahead, with the severely green Graham (Matt Brick) replacing Wally, and a documentary crew in tow to cover the whole agonizing process…

A mixture of fact, fiction and flippancy, Re-Living off the Land is uneven, but quite clever overall. Writer-directors Best and Murphy (along with Spaull and De Backer) actually did make the film-within-the-film-within-the-film (ahem) as teenagers, the original footage from which turns up here. Everything after that has been concocted for the end product, to varying degrees of success. Narratively, the plot follows a trajectory reminiscent of the mockmentaries of Christopher Guest, with a group of insecure no-hopers banding together on a project we in the audience all know will be a failure from the get go. There are frayed egoes, dented friendships, celebrity hissy-fits and off-screen lawsuits to dot the proceedings.

While the acting is generally variable – and in fairness, mockumentary acting is very hard to pull off – the involvement of De Backer (whose songs as both Gotye and The Basics appear on the soundtrack), the late Franklin (to whom the film is dedicated), and Franklin's writing partner Peter Fitzpatrick gives the film added verisimilitude. The film's lo-fi, shot-on-video aesthetic works effectively, and the low-grade footage from the original shoot (much of which hasn't been white-balanced) is amusing in it's sheer amateurish enthusiasm.

Re-Living off the Land was featured in this year's Melbourne Underground Film Festival and while it's running time – longer than an average short, much shorter than an average feature – may hobble its chances of wider distribution, it's a film worth seeking out.

NOTE: In the interests of full disclosure – and to y'know, keep Media Watch at bay – I ought to mention that Peter Fitzpatrick was one of my tutors at uni ages ago, lest anyone accuse me of going easy on this film. Jonathan Holmes can now rest easy, no doubt…
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