Cactus Jasmine Yuen Carrucan

Cactus Jasmine Yuen Carrucan
Geographically and spatially aware, with purpose mired in the referential rather than the relevant, Cactus — Australian slang for "up the creek without a paddle" — is noteworthy for its potential and what it represents more so than its actuality. An overall "lean and mean" approach to a bare bones narrative keeps things engrossing and appealing for sure, but Carrucan's directorial debut doesn't hold a candle to other Aussie fare of late such as The Square and Last Ride.

Opening with the violent kidnapping of a career gambler named Eli (David Lyons), this taut thriller unfolds, for the most part, inside the rundown Ford of captor John (Travis McMahon), whose clandestine motivations drive the plot as much as Eli's efforts at escape.

Like any road movie, it's all about the journey and not the destination, ultimately leaving the bulk of things pivoting on not so clever mind games and ideological bickering, with some exploitation of sore spots. A no nonsense police officer (played by Bryan Brown) and a trucker mix things up along the way, but mostly there's a sense of foreboding and aimless momentum that comes from repeated dusty scenery and overwhelming isolation.

For the first hour, the power of the unknown propels the story forward despite limited action. Every turn of phrase acts as a potential clue, with lingering tension giving an impending sense of doom. Unfortunately, once all is revealed and a pat resolution brings things to a halt, we're left with the feeling of being cheated, or at least led astray.

Certainly there is an awareness of road movie thrillers from decades past, and the deserted Australian outback exacerbates the central theme of forging wayward into oblivion. But at the end of the day, the meat of the thing is little more than rote mechanics, broad characterizations and fancy camera work. (Vagrant)