Down Under’s startling opening scenes are news footage from the 2005 Cronulla Beach Riots: crowds of young white Australians chanting racist slogans, attacking Lebanese youths and in turn being restrained by police. “We grew here, you flew here,” one young thug has written on his chest. It’s in the spirit of such idiotic gestures that Abe Forsythe’s black comedy of futility plays out. On the day after the riots, hot-headed Nick (Rahel Romahn) convinces his studious cousin Hassim (Lincoln Younes) to join a small group of Lebanese men looking for retribution. Meanwhile Jason (Damon Herriman) brings together a gang of racist whites including stoner Shit-Stick (Alexander England) and heavily bandaged Ditch (Justin Rosniak), whose body is liberally tattooed with Ned Kellys.
Armed with baseball bats, crowbars and the odd firearm of dubious origin, the two groups pile into their cars to patrol the gaudily Christmas-decorated streets of the Shire in search of trouble. Ironies quickly start to pile up: Jason is looking for ‘Lebs’ to assault, but also some kebabs to satisfy the cravings of his pregnant girlfriend (Harriet Dyer). The ‘Lebs’ have to pause in their mission of violence to pray. Shit-Stick’s visiting cousin with Down Syndrome (Chris Bunton) just wants to go home and watch The Lord of the Rings.
Chris Morris’s terrorist comedy Four Lions is a clear influence and Down Under similarly doesn’t pull its punches. Forsythe’s unrelentingly coarse dialogue is clever and paints a scathing picture of white-trash Australia. (“Daddy’s got to go beat up some wogs,” Jason explains to his young daughter, and is happy to leave her wide-eyed in front of a DVD of Wolf Creek.) The near-stereotype of a camp amphetamines dealer would grate if David Field’s performance were not so watchably deranged. Cronulla was a stain on our national character but Down Under is a cause for celebration, skewering notions of masculinity and nationalism in a balls-out narrative expertly balancing absurdism and tragedy. It’s a hilarious, pertinent must-see. – Nick Dent