By Liza Dezfouli
Mairi Cameron’s first feature film, The Second (2018), is a psychological thriller that doesn’t name its characters. Instead, we have The Writer (Rachael Blake), daughter of a literary giant, successful in her own right on a weekend away with The Publisher (Vince Colosimo) at her family’s magnificent country property. The lugubrious features of The Writer’s late father glare out of a portrait in the foyer. When The Muse (Susie Porter), The Writer’s teenage best friend, a ‘beautiful liar’ according to The Writer, shows up, secrets from their past begin to eddy and swirl around them. The trio quickly becomes caught up in an erotically charged dance of power and manipulation.
But who is manipulating who? This question compels the viewer all along in this Australian Gothic, a dark narrative set mostly in daylight. A locked study beckons. Quiet country roads are threatened by a shadowed face behind the wheel of a truck. The Second is a mysterious and masterful drama that keeps you wondering as present day events cut to the past in flashback. Events onscreen are interrupted by what at first appears to be a media interview. The writer is now a literary darling. But what else might she be?
Colosimo excels as a man out of his depth, anxious for The Writer to complete her second book, a follow up to her first novel about the death of a teenage boy at this very property. He’s the only character you feel comfortable with; he’s clueless, and perhaps trapped in this rural mansion. Blake and Porter are pitted in a power struggle where the locus of control shifts and sways; you trust neither of them.
One of the strengths of the film is its take on the notion of dangerous adolescent female sexuality bringing about the downfall of young men, a misogynistic cultural trope which The Second slyly subverts, revealing how this premise is used against women. The story reminds us that who tells stories holds the power.
Interactions between the characters have a rehearsed detached tenor, there’s a measured tightness between them. They never relax and nor do you. Where does truth lie? The film is cool, almost lofty in its approach, especially considering the number of literary allusions to Camus and weighty pronouncements about writing dropped into the dialogue; this element of Stephen Lance’s script just falls short of pretentiousness. Despite this, and the convoluted plot, you’re intrigued and want to stay with the story. A memorable film, beautifully bamboozling.
The Second screens at Lido Cinemas, Sunday 24th February, 2:30pm. Tickets available here