MetalSkinThis is one of the finest Australian films of the past couple decades, and also one of the most underappreciated: a bleak and upsetting stew of post-teenage ennui, witchcraft, psychosis and death!

I guess it’s futile by now to expect that this 1994 film (originally titled SPEED) will ever receive any kind of substantial following. It was venomously reviewed during its 1995 Australian release and all-but ignored at the box office. I heard it was supposed to be distributed in the US by Miramax, but that never happened. Not even a tricked-out DVD release by Subversive Cinema succeeded in working up much interest.

Yet METAL SKIN is in my view the finest film made by Geoffrey Wright, best known for his 1992 debut feature ROMPER STOMPER, a blistering skinhead drama starring a then-unknown Russell Crowe. Other Wright films include the witty SCREAM pastiche CHERRY FALLS (2000) and a contemporary take on MACBETH (2006).

Somewhere in Melbourne, Australia, the twentyish Joe, an awkward, fumbling loser, lives in a rundown shack with his senile father. Joe’s only passion in life is working on his self-designed hot rod, a souped-up station wagon. Upon taking a job in a local supermarket distribution plant Joe meets the like-minded Dazey, who drives a heavily modified charger. Dazey is slick, carefree and dating the pretty Roslyn, who Joe has his eye on.

Roslyn and Dazey have a checkered history: some years earlier Dazey injured her in a car accident that left an ugly scar on her torso and severe mental trauma. Matters aren’t helped by Dazey’s compulsive screwing around with seemingly anything that moves.

The fourth part of this demented quadrant is Savina, a freaky Satan worshipping goth who lives with her demented mother and works with Joe and Dazey. Savina is infatuated with Dazey, and performs a spell to get him to fall in love with her. It appears that her spell has worked when Dazey takes her to bed and invites her to a rave, but in fact he’s only using her to make Roslyn jealous.

That latter fact is not lost upon Joe, who’s also looking to hook up with Savina (having concluded he has no chance with Roslyn). He’s dangerously close to going over the edge completely, as for that matter is everyone else! All are headed for ruin in an inescapable vortex of insanity, death and an apocalyptic car chase.

In addition to being a gritty depiction of mid-nineties Melbourne, METAL SKIN has a stylistic palette as innovative in its way as the same year’s NATURAL BORN KILLERS. Jump cuts and time-tripping intercutting are constants, and provide quite a few moments of oft-kilter brilliance (such as an early scene in which Roslyn and Daisy discuss their traumatic car accident, which in place of the expected flashback to the event employs a flash forward to the climactic auto duel). The stylistic bravura isn’t utilized for show-offishness, but as an honest depiction of its characters’ befuddled mindsets.

All the performances are superb, with Aden Young a standout as the disturbed Joe, along with STRICTLY BALLROOM’S perky Tara Morice, who’s virtually unrecognizable as the freaky Savina. One feels for these characters, and part of the film’s lacerating power is its staunchly uncompromising depiction of their sad but inevitable fates. Hmmm, maybe it’s not so surprising that METAL SKIN never found much of an audience.

However, there’s no question that the ultra-intense 4-minute car chase climax is a stunner in every respect. An unforgettable capper to the frustration and disillusionment simmering throughout the film, it’s one of the most nerve-jangling automotive sequences in film history, edited for maximum sensory assault. For those of you who think every type of movie car chase has been done, METAL SKIN proves otherwise.

Vital Statistics

Daniel Scarfe Productions

Director: Geoffrey Wright
Producer: Daniel Scarfe
Screenplay: Geoffrey Wright
Cinematography: Ron Hagen
Editing: Bill Murphy, Jane Usher
Cast: Aden Young, Tara Morice, Nadine Garner, Ben Mendelsohn, Chantel Contouri, Petru Gheorghiu, Arthur Angel, Richard Sutherland, Anita Cerdic, Tommy Dysart, Mike Bishop, Nicholas Polites