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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 40.54%
Average: 5.41%
Pretty Bad: 2.7%
Total Crap: 8.11%

1 review, 31 user ratings

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Shame (1987)
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by Andrew Howe

"Fear and loathing in the Outback"
4 stars

Unfairly ignored at the time of its 1987 release, the Australian thriller Shame is a jet-black ode to the innocents sacrificed upon the altar of apathy. Shot on a shoestring budget, it's a simple tale of the darkness at the heart of small-town life, and it hammers its message home with the force that only righteous anger can provide.

Asta Cadell (Deborra-Lee Furness), a leather-clad lawyer on a two-wheeled holiday, earns an unscheduled layover in a country town when her motorbike breaks down. She befriends a rather fragile local girl, Lizzie (Simone Buchanan), who is in awe of Asta's self-assurance and big-city attitude. Lizzie is not alone in her frayed appearance, and it transpires that the favourite pastime of the local lads is raping the young women of the town, to which the adults (including the local law-enforcement officer) turn a blind eye. From there the film works its way to a harrowing climax, as Asta defends her new-found friend from her harassers while attempting to break through the barriers of resignation and the notion that “boys will be boys”.

Anybody who has spent time in certain Australian country towns will attest to the fact that the laws which govern you and I cease to apply once you cross the city limits - raised in a dust-ridden, hard-working environment, the inhabitants of these isolated fly-specks have been known to give free reign to their basest instincts (drinking, fighting, copulating - the traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle), and anyone who threatens the status-quo (the untamed spirit trying to break free, or anyone from the Big Smoke) is viewed with a suspicion that borders on paranoia. It's a tribe mentality, and even those charged with protecting the rights of the innocent are more concerned with smoothing over unpalatable behaviour than prosecuting the perpetrators.

I generalise, of course, but regardless of the truth of the matter, the fact remains that the film rises or falls on whether it can convince the viewer that the basic concept is at least marginally plausible. Its budgetary limitations and lack of big-name performers ensure that it is, for the most part, chillingly believable: the subject-matter never assumes the guise of a mere flight of fancy, denying the viewer the scepticism that would derail its efforts. Every atrocity hits home with the impact of a tyre iron, and there comes a time when you find yourself howling for vengeance, wishing that you could step through the screen and mete out a little vigilante justice of your own.

The film's impact is aided by a script that is a case study in the art of tension-building. It starts at a slow simmer, then builds to a crescendo over its ninety-minute duration. Certain scenes play on our greatest fears - when Lizzie and her family take refuge in their house we assume they're safe, since even their drunken harassers would seem to have the sense not to violate her final sanctuary ("Within these walls you are safe", our mothers used to croon). We are, however, so very wrong, and the result is a gut-wrenching sequence that puts most high-budget thrillers to shame.

The film wisely allows us a little payback on occasion, provided by Asta, who assumes the status of an avenging angel. She's no action-hero, however - she does what she can, but in the end is as powerless as the rest to prevent the events from cascading to their inevitable conclusion.

And that is what really nails this film home, for it never allows itself to devolve into a standard tale of salvation. Apathy, it tells us, has killed more innocents than bullets or bayonets, but a lone voice can never stand against the rising tide of those who would see no evil, even when it's as close as your bathroom mirror. The mindset that allows a culture of degradation to flourish is explored in sufficient detail that events never occur for no better reason than to advance the plot, and the result is a thought-provoking film that leaves you battered and empty, unsullied by traces of clinical manipulation (the film does play with the viewer's emotions at certain key junctures, but knowing the buttons to push is rarely a reason to disparage a film, since it's an appropriate technique for immersing the viewer in the proceedings).

The acting is, if not exactly award material, more than adequate for the task at hand. Furness is a capable actress who is better known for her television performances, and she exudes the requisite resolve without lapsing into a tough-as-nails stereotype. Buchanan's role is a revelation, since her previous experience consisted of a role in a long-running sitcom, and her touching portrayal of a girl who has been denied the chance to live as a normal teenager is central to the film's success. The rest of the film is, in true independent fashion, populated with unprofessional actors and bit-part specialists, which merely adds to its believability.

Shame is not a subtle film, but there are some subjects which are not well-served by restraint. It is an independent film that exists, not to experiment, but to tell its story in a fashion that invites the viewer to become invested in the proceedings, free of the trappings of budgets, stars and Hollywood endings. It won't change the world, but it's a well-paced, powerful attempt to canvass an important issue, and that makes it more than worthy of our attention.

The tagline for this film reads "There will be no more shame". I'd like to believe that, if the right people digested its contents, perhaps that would be true.

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originally posted: 03/25/01 15:48:40
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User Comments

7/30/18 Scotty Saw this recently on SBS On Demand. Great hard-hitting movie. Alas no subtitles! 4 stars
12/10/16 Jan Is perhaps even more relevant today. A MUST watch 5 stars
1/18/16 Spiral Python A profoundly affecting movie. A harrowing, accurate account of life in some outback towns 5 stars
10/16/14 fetuus this movie is da shit it made my eyes widen and live LIFE TO THE FULLEST ILY LIZZIE MY IDOL 5 stars
1/21/14 John A typically under-rated Aust film. Some parallels with real life small town rape cover-ups. 5 stars
2/08/12 Southern California The movie is fantastic. I saw it when it came out and own the VHS. 5 stars
1/17/11 Rick Fields I thought the acting was fantastic a tour de force by Lee Furness (Asta) and Buchanan 5 stars
3/25/10 danielle watched it for english 15yrs ago i liked it ,does anyone know if its available on dvd?? 4 stars
3/07/10 Khalid i liked it and i liked Simone Buchanae i saw it in beta V.C.R and stel want to see it agayn 5 stars
1/31/10 Monica Everyone should atleast see this film. Truth hurts 5 stars
10/30/09 liz its a reality no-one likes to acknowledge 5 stars
6/28/09 Jo saw this as a "clive james friday night special 20 years ago....would love a copy! 5 stars
5/23/09 Jack Only watchin 4 school assignments...its nott exciting or anything 3 stars
8/25/08 Kel Liked it 4 stars
5/19/08 bob jane crap 1 stars
3/10/08 Kohta this film is the splattered bug on the windscreen of Australian films 1 stars
8/28/07 DV Really good movie with underlying, interlinking discourses on the law, and gender roles 4 stars
8/20/07 Emer a movie that is realistic of how a woman raped feels and of how she can be treated. 5 stars
3/28/07 ROBEERT AWSOME FILM! 5 stars
3/15/07 daniel norris crapest movie ever.. but the boys r hot 5 stars
3/30/06 Sian predictable and sappy 2 stars
4/23/05 mango_rules A great movie which really hits home and gives a new voice to all women 5 stars
3/17/05 millia doing it for Lit. Pretty good film that makes think. 4 stars
3/24/03 Mel I really really liked the film, it touched all my classmates who watched it with me 5 stars
3/08/03 always_alright im doing this for english 4 stars
8/27/02 Lindsay powerful and terrifying (borders on preachy....) 4 stars
4/18/02 'Ree A truly touching film to anyone that has experienced rape and can identify with Lizzie. 4 stars
3/15/02 chris sanders really crap 1 stars
8/01/01 kelly very good movie very intresting 5 stars
7/25/01 Wendy A great film that helps outline some of the social values of the late 1980's in Australia 4 stars
6/08/01 michael its got a good storyline 3 stars
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  02-Sep-1987 (R)


  02-Sep-1987 (M)

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