Rolf de Heer is one of Australia’s most versatile talents, but that doesn’t mean he’s a journeyman moviemaker. He’s more likely to bend a genre to fit his twisted perspective, rather than flex in the other direction. The King is Dead! (exclamation mark absolutely essential) is his take on the neighbour-from-hell trope; one that bears particular significance in Oz thanks to nightly exposés of such nefarious individuals on those bastions of journalistic integrity A Current Affair and Today Tonight. Instead of arguments arising over damage to fences or yapping dogs, de Heer has his two ordinary protagonists unwittingly move into a warzone, and get drawn into its dark web. Though the first half of the film borders on repetitious and stretches our credulity (why wouldn’t they just moooove?), a characteristically dark turn from the writer-director invites some much needed chaos to proceedings, and it inspires some very funny moments as well.
Dan Wyllie and Bojana Novakovic star as Max and Therese, a regular, somewhat boring married couple who buy a lovely, old-fashioned house on a charming little street. Upon arrival, they discover the “interesting” individuals living to their right (they were, of course, absent on inspection day): the perpetually drugged-out King (Gary Waddell), and his two horrendously unkempt buddies (Luke Ford, Anthony Hayes). They listen to the same ridiculous hip-hop track all day, drink and party and scream all night, execute drug deals in the front yard, and endlessly beat up a variety of women indoors. Max and Therese’s patience is tested when they become victim to a number of robberies, almost definitely perpetrated by King and co. When the police do nothing, they hatch a plot to get revenge, and hopefully scare the dastardly trio into vacating. It goes spectacularly awry.
Wyllie and Novakovic have a nice, natural chemistry that allows us to forgive their characters’ inaction, and grounds their later, more outrageous activities. Seriously though, why would they continue living next to such an insane group of people when their own safety is at risk? That there wouldn’t be a movie if they just left, is not a good enough excuse. We have to believe there’s a reason for them to stay other than, well, the conflict being ripe for a plot. Regardless, The King is Dead has some great comic asides, and the finale paints Max and Therese into a genuinely dangerous and entertaining corner.
The King is Dead is now showing in most Australian cinemas, expanding on July 19, 2012.