Fell rises to cinematic heights

16 June 2014

Fell (Kasimir Burgess, 2014) is a truly cinematic experience. The film follows Thomas (Matt Nable), who is on a camping trip in the forest with his daughter Lara, when she is run over and killed by timber worker Luke (Daniel Henshall). From this moment, the lives of these men become irrevocably entangled.

Interior shots of Thomas weaving through Melbourne city in his car, and the lifeless home he inhabits with his wife, make this life seem unlivable and claustrophobic. In a fit of grief Thomas’ wife tries to have sex with him, to reconnect, reclaim, move-on. But it’s a lost cause because his soul has already left. For Luke, we see him desperately having sex with his girlfriend, his misplaced desire seeking to fill the void of a life he has snuffed out. The coil of sex and death for both characters is revelatory.

While Luke whiles away the time in jail, Thomas cleanses himself of his former life. He reclaims an abandoned hut in the forest and lives an ascetic life. His body evolves into a beacon of strength and resilience to fight the grief that rots within him. He releases his anger and pain through destruction, working at the same timber mill as Luke. He imagines a tree to be Luke as he hacks at it viciously with an axe.

The passage of time in these two adjacent worlds is tellingly revealed. For Luke, in all his naïveté and hope, time passes in the pictures on his cell wall of his growing daughter, Madeleine. For Thomas, time is measured by the disintegrating carcass of a log that fell from Luke’s truck, slowly being consumed within the environment from which it was wrested.

The two lives again collide on Luke’s release, when he returns to work for the timber mill. Thomas remains at a distance, watching Luke’s fight to regain his previous life. He slowly closes in, stalking Luke and his daughter Madeleine, now around the same age as Lara was when she was killed. His motives are unclear. Does he seek revenge, or closure? The two are paired on an expedition to document the trees, scaling heights to measure the body of the tree. “She could live forever,” Luke says of one of the tallest beauties. But she won’t - she is tapped for destruction. When Thomas finds Luke’s life in his hands, will he seek his revenge?

Fell is beautiful to watch. Burgess successfully transfers the precise shot composition intrinsic to the short film form to feature length. Marden Dean’s cinematography is arresting; you become so ensconced in the act of viewing that the slow-paced narrative and scant dialogue are superfluous. But the visceral response to the film owes much to Emma Bortignon’s incredible sound design. When a tree is fell, the groan and creak of the tree’s body ripping from its stump, exposing its stretched fibre innards, is human-like, so corporeal that it feels like a murder.

Fell is a collaborative effort, flawlessly executed by serious Australian talent. It is ideal cinema - where all the elements available to the form are seamlessly melded. The film sustains the suspense throughout, not letting up until the perfect denouement. Even the early idyllic scenes with Thomas and Lara are underwritten by the ominous sense of impending devastation. Fell will have you transfixed from end to end, in its beauty, in its tragedy, in its perfection.