Ripe with sex and twenty-something angst, Praise is Australia's next great film. Not since Last Tango in Paris has a film so fearlessly tracked the blood and pain that courses through the veins of a modern relationship. Working from the brilliant novel by Andrew McGahan, cherry director John Curran has made one of the most honest and sexually frank movies to ever come out of Australia. It ripples with the lethargy of every day life, and lingers in the mind for weeks afterward.Gordon (Fenton) doesn't measure up to the typical image of the Australian male. He has to kick-start his libido, has a small dick, and quits his job as a bottle shop attendant when he's asked to work two days straight. Things change when he gets the come on from Cynthia (Horler), a tough, up front woman with an insatiable sex drive. Caught in a hot Queensland summer, their relationship slowly spins out of control in a storm of obsession and jealousy.
While relationships flash across the screen in the glow of romantic yearning, it's a rare film that actually gets into the inner workings of a relationship to see what makes it tick. The fact that the relationship in Praise turns out to be a slow burning explosive device is merely incidental; director Curran never sells his film as a Basic Instinct style exercise in raunch. It's about two people pulled from the banality of real life who ignite when they collide. Curran finds the fire that can exist between any two people.
Holding this edgy and confronting film together are two extraordinary young actors. As the diffident, chronically laid back Gordon, Peter Fenton (formerly of the band Crow) storms the screen in an amazing film debut. He finds the truth in Gordon and never makes him a caricature of cool. Despite his exterior of calm, you can feel the raging turbulence just under the surface. Fenton's is a complex, multi-layered performance that catches lightning in a bottle.
Like a raging sea against Fenton's rock, Sacha Horler gives a pumped up performance of almost indescribable primal force. With copious nudity, raw sex scenes and an initially off putting character, this is a role only an actress of uncommon courage would take. Horler makes the dynamic Cynthia her own with a gutsy energy and intelligence that has the unmistakable glow of star shine.Amongst a mess of films that trade in cheap theatrics and glib irony, Praise is a bright shining jewel of truth. Its characters are painfully real, and it moves the audience with the undeniable kick of its own honesty and uncompromised spirit, almost burning up the screen with its blistering take on a truly incendiary relationship. ---Erin Free