Tomorrow, When the War Began (2012)
Film review #372
Director: Stuart Beattie
SYNOPSIS: Seven teenagers in rural Australia go off into the wilderness for a weekend camping trip, but when they return, they find that while they were away, a foreign army has invaded the country, and rounded up all of their families. The group are hunted by the occupying forces, and must not only find a way to survive, but to fight back and save their town…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Tomorrow When the War Began is a 2012 Australian film based on the novel of the same name. The film centres around a group of teenagers who have to survive when their country is invaded by a foreign power. In the beginning, we are introduced to Ellie, a normal teenager who narrates the story, and is organising a weekend camping trip with her friends into an area of the wilderness literally called Hell. While they are away with no way to contact anyone, a foreign army invades Australia and takes over their town, as well as imprisoning all their families. When Ellie and the rest of the group return home to find everyone gone, they have to find a way to first of all survive, then figure out how to fight back. The film is quite similar to Red Dawn, which really remains the benchmark for these types of films. The plot unfolds steadily and more or less predictably, but given the constant danger that the cast is in, it creates a tense atmosphere in which you can believe that no one is safe, and danger could just be around the corner. The film exclusively centres around the cast of teenagers, and for most of the film they are just trying to survive before they can actually start to fight back. We don’t see their families captured, and neither do they try and free them because they are too busy just trying to avoid getting captured themselves, which sort of makes sense. The film also has a ‘coming-of-age’ feel to it as the characters are forced to grow up and confront adulthood a lot sooner than they were expecting. There is a lot of suspense in many of the scenes throughout the film, and a constant sense of danger that is executed well, driving many of the decisions that the characters take.
The most interesting part of the film is definitely the characters. Each of the teenagers that make up the group has their own recognisable personality, and a good amount of focus is given to each of them to see how they deal with the situation they find themselves in. The inter-personal relationships between them also get a good amount of attention, and so while some of the characters fall into very stereotypical roles, they develop unique relationships and responses throughout the film, which makes keeps it interesting. Being based on a book, you can certainly see where the characters were specially developed in the text and translated into film well. Sometimes there’s a corny line of dialogue that feels out of place, and takes you out of the drama of a scene, but the overall impression of the characters you get isn’t hampered by this. They really are a balanced bunch with elements of romance and animosity to give it some variety, and plenty of opportunities by the end of the film to overcome their shortcomings and truly ‘come of age’ (even if, again, it sometimes feels a bit corny or obvious). Ellie certainly leaves a strong impression as she starts as an ordinary teenage girl and quickly becomes scarred and hardened by the trouble she goes through (such as having to kill the enemy soldiers), but also has to contend with her still human side. Kevin’s cowardice is a constant burden to the group, but by the end he finally finds something to stand up for. Homer’s unruliness finds a place in executing and planning guerrilla tactics, Fiona is a bit of a princess, but isn’t afraid to confront her humanity and help out despite being aware of her limitations, and Robyn realises that following her religion isn’t so simple when she also has her loyalties to her friends who are also counting on her. Again, these are interesting characters to watch that evolve beyond the familiar stereotypical roles they begin in through well written dialogue and relationships.
The balance between drama and action is well maintained, and the scenes are well constructed to serve their purpose. There’s some great shots of the Australian wilderness which really define the location well and give it a unique sense of identity (while the themes in the film are familiar, they are rarely set in this part of the world). The soundtrack is full of fitting songs, and the production and direction is well executed. The film never gets too over-the-top, and while not overly violent or gruesome, does not shy away from the harshness of what is going on, which again accentuates the need for these characters to grow up quickly and confront their weaknesses. The plot eventually centres around the group attempting to blow up the only bridge in and out of town, thereby cutting off reinforcements from the nearby port. The film ends with their success, but with the war far from over and their families still imprisoned, they obviously have a long way to go. There were several more books that continued the story, but none of them were adapted into a film, which is a shame because by the end of the film the cast becomes very familiar and you are certainly left wanting more from them. Tomorrow, When the War Began follows familiar themes and tropes, but branches out to develop it’s characters and unique location in an interesting and refreshing way, and keeps the viewer engaged with tense action scenes and emotional drama. There’s the odd line of dialogue or performance which falls flat and interrupts the investment in the film, but overall it’s an entertaining and captivating watch.