When you remember it, and it certainly lingers large in the memory, the stretchy shit-eating smile of local actor/comedian Angus Sampson (pictured above, left) seems unrealistically large, as if it extends further than the borders of his face and leaves the rest of his body lingering limply below like the legs of a ventriloquist’s puppet.
Despite a relatively ubiquitous career over several years, mostly comprised of bit parts, Sampson still has the aura of a fresh-faced future gun biding his time before a lucky break sends his stock up from a likeable industry figure to Rolodex A-grader.
He “broke in” by joking about Maggi noodles on the teev with the jive of an intellectually disabled MSG addict and starred in 2005’s klutzy ‘strayian comedy You and Your Stupid Mate. That’s a movie generally spoken about — by the small number of people who saw it — with either Voldermortian hushed tones or boisterous bursts of condescension, though it’s fair to say few if any of its sins stuck to its stars. Interesting to note how they decided to market it on DVD, with a beach-set Australiana cover featuring an image Sampson’s head significantly smaller than the size of Rachel Hunter’s right breast.
Finally Sampson gets a chance to put that galaxy-wide glare to decent use as a serial killer with a twist in 100 Bloody Acres, an ambitiously quirky black comedy about two brothers who run an fertiliser business and use human bodies as their equivalent of the Colonel’s secret herbs and spices. The film is the feature debut of writer/director brothers Colin and Cameron Cairnes. It’s an admirably spirited shot that lacks oomph.
Sampson plays Lindsay Morgan, domineering older brother of imbecile Reg (Damon Herriman) who, shortly after the movie begins, stuffs a human body into the back of his truck. Like a move from Dude, Where’s My Car? he then picks up three hitchhikers on their way to a music festival and…things don’t go so well for them. Two ride in the back near the body, which is badly stuffed among other bags, and the other, Sophie (Anna McGahan), sits shotgun. Naturally the only sensible option is for Reg to go back to home base and ‘fertilise’ the three of them, who are now caught in a Wolf Creek-esque stroke of bad luck.
Making this kind of jet-black blood-n-bodies comedy work requires menace. With barely a whiff of it in 100 Bloody Acres, the potty puns and grim gags flip-flop. 100 Acres plays for laughs over scares, not by any stretch of a Sampson smile a bad idea, but underestimates — or for one reason or another wasn’t able to realise — the importance of the latter.
An uneven tempo gives the movie long slabs of punctuation and rapid shifts in tone, as if the Cairnes boys realised they were onto something good but couldn’t decide exactly what. On occasions the story takes desperate lurches into quickly abandoned new directions, often punctuated with comedic extremities not without their benefits.
There’s a great gag involving a stray knife, a good Rebecca Gibney pun (niche genre) and a hoot to be had in a you-crazy-mutha sex scene sure to provide Sampson comedic mileage for years, even if it boils down to him yakin’ shtick in a comedy room or after a few beers at the pub. We’d be right to hope that shit-eating smile will keep coming back, larger and snappier, with productions that stretch it into more interesting places.
100 Bloody Acres is playing at The Melbourne International Film Festival.