MIFF-BelowA detention centre dark-comedy featuring the star of Australian cinema Anthony LaPaglia, Maziar Lahooti’s directorial film debut, Below, offers a confronting examination on Australia’s refugee policy.

Below follows a group of immigration detention centre guards who force asylum seekers to fight in a cage somewhere deep in the sunburnt Australian outback. This abuse of power is heightened when Dougie (Ryan Corr), a guard in desperate need of money who has taken the position per an agreement with his step-father-now-boss Terry (LaPaglia), operates a live-stream broadcast so he may monetize the barbaric fights.

If this weren’t already horrible enough, it is further amplified by the extent which the guards go about controlling detainees; using the families of detainees as leverage for their obedience. Dougie uses the opportunity to manage a fighter, offering the combatant and his family special-treatment in exchange for participation in the brawls.

To call Below audacious filmmaking would be an understatement. It’s bravery to be broad in scope and to do so with such a distasteful sense of humour highlights political failure to the highest degree.

Corr delivers an astounding performance as anti-hero Dougie, with praise in particular directed at his monologue towards the end of the film being delivered with a compassionate fury. Dougie’s erraticism is matched by a fast-talking showmanship that he employs to keep himself out of trouble.

His transformation throughout Below coincides with the films mounting resentment towards a political system that mistreats those coming to Australia in search of asylum. LaPaglia is always fantastic, portraying a hulking-Scottish guard whose experiences as a white-immigrant contrast with those he is employed to detain.

Lahooti is given carte blanche in terms of visual styling, delivering a hyper-stylized film that demonstrates his contemporary filmmaking oeuvre. The visuals are striking and crisp, creating vast landscapes to highlight isolation before enclosing individuals within dark, confined walls. Graphics communicate the concerning-ease which cyber-crime is conducted and work in tandem with an electronic score that brings a heavy mood to the film.

Lahooti’s overall product proves exceptionally raw, with a minor fault of Below being in its slight over-indulgence in the use of slow-mo as an attempt to be striking. This remains a mild inconvenience in what is otherwise a highly-visceral takedown on Australia’s existing treatment of refugees.

Below is currently screening as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Image: Anthony LaPaglia and Ryan Corr star in Below (supplied)

Review: Hagan Osborne