Based on the first installment in the 1990s novel series by John Marsden, Tomorrow, When the War Began may superficially bear a resemblance to Red Dawn. But it owes more in its thematic underpinnings to Nevil Shute’s classic post-nuclear Australian novel, On the Beach, which is sadly more relevant every day. This small, low-budget Australian film is being simultaneously released on Facebook, video-on-demand (VOD) and in a handful of movie theaters (e.g., San Diego, New Haven, Miami, Buffalo Grove, Illinois, and Seattle) on the same day (this Friday, Feb. 24). I watched the movie on an iMac. I enjoyed every minute.
Written and directed by Stuart Beattie (Australia, the forthhcoming I, Frankenstein), the R-rated coming-of-age war movie features several young actors as a band of people who go camping in Australia’s bush country – which is beautifully photographed – and come back to an invasion, apparently by foreigners, of their coastal town and country. At 103 minutes, Tomorrow gets down to business fairly briskly, with the farm-girl/tomboy heroine Ellie (perfectly cast Caitlin Stasey) coordinating an adventurous camping trip with her best friend (Rachel Hurd-Wood, Wendy in P.J. Hogan’s excellent Peter Pan) to take in her dad’s Land Rover further out than usual because her girlfriend is getting more experience and says she wants to live life to the fullest.
Do they ever. Though the plot is somewhat predictable, certain lines are stale and character types are clearly drawn from young adult literary fiction, everyone is tested, everyone makes clear choices and – here’s what is not like Red Dawn – each character holds on to and fights for his and her values, which are at stake at every turn, whether a searchlight, an enemy ambush or an air-to-air missile is upon them. Besides its leading young ladies, Tomorrow‘s unsuspecting campers include a rebellious hunk named Homer, a popular dude named Kevin – it seems as though there’s always a Kevin – a voluptuous rich kid who fits the blonde stereotype, a Christian, an Asian and a hippie. Deniz Akdeniz as Greek-Aussie Homer, Phoebe Tonkin as the bathing beauty and Chris Pang as Lee are especially good – Stasey as Ellie and Hurd-Wood as Corrie are best – and the battle and action scenes are tense and exciting. While it’s not overtly political, the invaders seem to demand that Australia “be made to share” its wealth with those “less fortunate,” which makes Tomorrow, When the War Began ring true in today’s West, which is at war with itself and being looted from the inside and outside. The unique title caught my interest. The self-made young characters held it. The plot-theme – that freedom must be earned and countries must be restarted – sealed it with an old-fashioned blasting worthy of the best war movies. Watch the trailer here.