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London Film Festival – 1%: ‘a violent odyssey into an inescapable abyss’

1% marks the latest chapter in the subgenre commonly known as ‘ultra-violent Australian crime movies’. 

Paddo (Ryan Corr) is a dangerous man: acting president of the Australian Copperheads biker gang whilst their savage leader Knuck (Matt Nable) is in prison. Paddo is a far calmer captain than his predecessor, leading the men of the Copperheads to respect him like a surrogate father. When a rival gang gains leverage over his family (specifically his brother, Skink (Josh McConville)) and tries to cut a deal, Paddo tries to persuade Knuck to agree to the terms by deception. Inevitably, machismo and pride get in the way, forcing the Copperheads into a civil war and threatening Paddo’s safety.

1% is a car crash in slow motion – a dark, violent odyssey into an inescapable abyss. There’s not much suspense to keep audiences intrigued, but rather a rubbernecking effect that compels viewers to transfix their gaze on the screen even though they know it’s bad, only getting worse, and certainly won’t end well. Knuck goes to uber-violent lengths with those he likes, signposting the brutality to come for his enemies; and the instability of Skink seems ready-made for disaster.

But what sets Stephen McCallum’s feature aside from other ‘biker brawl’ flicks are its political and ideological slants that are more a study in masculinity than a thriller from the get go. Knuck seems to admire Paddo, but still feels the need to assert his leadership with hellfire and rage – whilst Paddo is a sensitive family guy who’s acting a hard man in the face of aggression. The realisation that Knuck has developed a passion for violent gay sex in prison only serves to complicate this situation more, leading to a deadly cocktail of insecurity and anger. But, perhaps most of all, these men are controlled by their wives (who wage a mirror-image microcosmic war on each other). In fact, by the end of 1%, audiences may find themselves questioning who exactly were the main players in the civil conflict.

As if it wasn’t dirty enough already, the whole affair looks and feels like a slice of scuzzy 70s exploitation trash – all neon lights, sweaty faces, and nausea-inducing hyper-realism. The cinematography is vivid, lucid even, adding colour to a story that didn’t really need anything more to make it fizz. But excess is undoubtedly the order of the day, and anything to make the action any more sickening only heightens the carnage.

Acknowledging its strengths – it’s hardcore, dizzying, and surprisingly complex in its gender-politics – McCallum’s debut isn’t a perfect piece of work. Aside from their sex dynamics, all these characters feel a little one-tone; and it’s hardly like we haven’t seen this story before in some form or another. As a result, it’s never a mystery to guess exactly where all this is going at any minute – resulting in it all feeling a bit stale. Well made, for sure, but stale nonetheless.

So, if you’re looking for a popcorn movie with a touch more edge, then you could do a lot worse than 1%. It’s buzzy, violent, and pretty damn fun. But if you’re looking for something more, or something different to the norm, then it’s probably not here. Sit back, relax, turn off, and just be glad you don’t live in Australia – there must be an explanation for all these violent flicks, right?

8/10

 

Featured image: The Hollywood Reporter.

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