Current Issue #488

Film Review:
Emu Runner

Asher Milgate
Rhae-Kye Waites in Emu Runner

The first feature from writer/director Imogen Thomas is a frequently moving character drama led by a pleasingly natural performance by newcomer Rhae-Kye Waites.

Working well opposite seasoned pro and onscreen dad Wayne Blair (also a director of films including Top End Wedding and The Sapphires), Waites holds the film together and brings a lot of unpolished honesty to the role of nine year old Gem, and makes up for some of the more stilted supporting players.

In the outback town of Brewarinna (500 miles northwest of Sydney) Gem is seen happily at the side of her Mum Darlene (Maurial Spearm) during a bushwalk. When Darlene suddenly dies, her family is left to mourn and try to heal. Gem’s Dad Jay Jay (Blair) attempts to keep everyone together with help from grandma Daphne (Mary Waites), but Gem’s grief alienates her from them and her older sister Valerie (Letisha Boney) and brother Ecka (Rodney McHughes).

Gem becomes concerned with the plight of an emu (her mother’s traditional totem animal) and starts stealing food to feed it, which leads to a series of misunderstandings involving well-intentioned local cop Stan (Rob Carlton) and social worker Heidi (Georgia Blizzard, good as a stereotypical character). Her talent for running (and Rhae-Kye can certainly move) links her to the beast, but also demonstrates her need to escape from the pain. But where can she go? Obviously Brewarinna is in the middle of nowhere.

Resisting the urge to make grand pronouncements about Indigenous themes, Thomas instead presents us with what is essentially a study of loss from a child’s melancholy perspective, with the sociopolitical edges simmering quietly in the background.

And, it must be said, perhaps the most serious problem here is the titular critter itself, which required four ‘emu wranglers’ (one was Thomas herself), yet nevertheless seems so often disconnected from the actors. Like the pelicans in the recent remake of Storm Boy, this big bird is hardly cute, and when we see it up close, those weird eyes suggest that it’s furious or deranged.

Still, Gem needs it as much as it needs her, and without the thing there wouldn’t be a movie.

Emu Runner (PG) is in cinemas now

DM Bradley

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