Robert Sutherland’s ambitious debut Australian feature seems unlikely to venture beyond limited release.I first heard of The Inside Story when it picked up the Australian Writers' Guild “AWGIE” award for its screenplay back in 2000, although the film was not completed until late 2001. There was a lengthy post-production period and, for a low-budget effort, The Inside Story boasts excellent special effects. A shame it otherwise has the under-produced feel of a student film.
The award was surprising because the script, although imaginative, is comparatively weak. The Inside Story lurches from genre to genre – horror/fantasy to romantic comedy to science fiction – as if writer-director Sutherland kept changing his mind about the film’s direction. The over-complicated plot lacks a coherent resolution and contains threads that lead nowhere. Why, for example, is our hero an astrophysicist?
The story goes something like this. An otherworldly demon possesses a struggling Melbourne writer (Kate Oliver) to ensure she incorporates into her story a particular magical book. This powerful tome contains the history of everything that’s ever occurred, and is the portal through which the demon - and, accidentally, the novel’s hero (Andrew Curry) - enters the “real” world. Or something.
The Inside Story may have worked better as a four-part serial, along the lines of a Doctor Who story. Perhaps it should have featured, and aimed at, young adults. Television dramas like The Secret Life of Us have upped the ante in the presentation of 20-something struggling writers and their peers. Sutherland also would have benefited from a collaborator (he was producer, as well as sole writer and director) to give him a fresh perspective on the material.
As a director, he isn’t inventive with his locations – their limited range should have made the opening scenes claustrophobic and sinister. The film has dead patches that cry out for music. Curry and Oliver are appealing, but too tentative, as the leads, and “Bud” Tingwell seems not to be performing so much as returning someone a favour.
The bright spot of the cast, and indeed the film, is Michael Angus as the writer’s down-to-earth housemate. He has a relaxed presence and a winning charisma, and brings a welcome good-natured humour to the proceedings.(This review is based on the print screened at the 2002 Sydney Film Festival. It is the first in a series of six short takes on the Festival - see also Nobody Someday, Lovely & Amazing, Making Venus, The Slaughter Rule and Lost in La Mancha)