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  Incident at Raven's Gate Outlandish OutbackBuy this film here.
Year: 1988
Director: Rolf de Heer
Stars: Steven Vidler, Celine O'Leary, Ritchie Singer, Vincent Gil, Saturday Rosenberg, Terry Camilleri, Max Cullen, Peter Douglas, Ernie Ellison, Brian Edward O'Connor, Ruth Goble, Paul Philpot, Max Lorenzin, Phil Bitter, Sylvia Thiele
Genre: Science Fiction
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: In the Outback of Southern Australia, a police sergeant investigates a mysterious disppearance which has left an isolated farmhouse belonging to Richard Cleary (Ritchie Singer) destroyed. Was there a fire, some sort of explosion, or was something else to blame? As he skulks around the wreckage he draws his gun, when suddenly he is confronted by a man (Terry Camilleri) in a suit who grabs the weapon and throws the bullets away; he appears to be from the government and taking an interest in the mysterious events leading up to the destruction which has not simply affected this house, but the whole community. To find out why we must go back five days...

Actually to find out why we won't get our answers looking at this film, we'd have to look at the original draft of the script, because Incident at Raven's Gate was one of those science fiction movies more captivated by a mystery than its explanation, which for a low budget effort as this was would be cheaper to sustain than staging a funds-eating setpiece where all was revealed. You did get a grand finale, but as with much of the strangeness here it was achieved through deft use of wind machine and bright lighting, which might be why in many territories this was known as Encounter at Raven's Gate, all the better to remind viewers of the first act of Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

In that blockbuster, there was a solution though it was a fantastical one, and the large majority of audiences would be well aware what that was before watching, therefore the same one was applied to this, but director Rolf de Heer offered up so few clues that the space alien interference was genuinely what was going on that it could just as well have been ghosts, or some inexplicable government experiment gone horribly wrong, we simply don't know. The lights in the sky frequently glimpsed could be flying saucers, then again they could be silent helicopters, slotting this into the conspiracy genre which Camilleri's character seems all too ready to have us accept; he certainly knows something, more than he's ever going to let on, which leaves some viewers shrugging.

On the other hand, being a movie without an explanation never did the reputation of Picnic at Hanging Rock any harm, so if this sounded appealing, that you would be little the wiser at the end than you were at the beginning, this would be right up your street. There's something about the location of Australia's miles of wilderness which stirs the national psyche, hence all those movies where weird and/or scary things happen out there, which could almost be a genre in itself if there was more of a substantial, linking thread running through them than taking advantage of a striking landscape. In this case, our hero is low level ne'erdowell Eddie (Steven Vidler), brother of Richard and covetous of his brother's wife Rachel (Celine O'Leary), with the feelings reluctantly mutual on her part.

Eddie works on the farm, coping with his resentment against the world which has seen him on probation for petty crime, not that this stops him speeding on the backroads to get into chases with the cops. Other characters include dodgy policeman Max Cullen who is in unrequited lust with the local barmaid, and the small gang who wind up Eddie because they think he stole their football trophy, but as the enigmatic force makes its presence felt, as in The Crazies and Impulse before it, the community breaks down, leading to fits of shaking, out of character violence, and those darned lights. At Raven's Gate, the older couple living there see their house attacked by the whatever it is, and when Eddie investigates with the crazy cop he finds them "welded" together by some incredible heat. Cue running out of the property in a panic. Considering it only amounts to as much as the plot was willing to let on, that was not too much, de Heer managed to sustain a decent degree of tension stemming from the feeling there are too many things occurring that you cannot perceive of. Music by Graham Tardif and Roman Kronen.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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