Whilst Australia has a knack of producing low budget thrillers and crime dramas, many of which have launched the careers of those behind and in front of the camera, Bad Girl falls short in its capacity to reel you in and keep you interested in the plight of the characters. There is superficiality in the characterisations that make it hard to understand the motivations of the various players. We are given little information about events that have taken place prior to the point where the film kicks off and therefore it is impossible to understand, or care much about, the actions of the two teenage protagonists or the supporting characters. First time writer-director Fin Edquist has the crux of a good film here, but it just doesn’t realise the potential of the premise and ultimately feels as superficial as the house into which Amy (Sara West) has just moved with her parents Peter (Benjamin Winspear) and Michelle (Felicity Price).
The family relocation coincides with Amy’s release from juvenile detention and, needless to say, Amy is less than impressed with the decision by her clueless parents to set up camp in a modernist, open-plan house in the Australian countryside that Peter has designed. By presenting Amy as a generic teen troublemaker, complete with piercings, green hair, secret drug stash and corny dialogue – “I dunno. I guess I’m just bad” – Edquist seems to believe this is enough to convince us of her bona fides as a particularly problematic teen rebel. The problem is that we never get any real understanding of the course of events that landed her in jail and much of her behaviour upon arrival at the new abode is in reaction to being uprooted from her life in the city and plonked smack bang in the middle of nowhere, a move that seems more to do with Peter wanting to use the house to showcase his architectural skills to potential clients than anything else. The only real insight we get into Amy’s past is the fact that she was adopted by Peter and Michelle about 10 years earlier. However, the fact that Peter is a jerk (and Winspear’s performance lacks any nuance whatsoever that might make his character in some way sympathetic) makes it pretty easy to see why Amy might not be particularly keen to stick around.
It is when Amy makes her bid for freedom that she encounters Chloe (Samara Weaving) for the second time (having previously crossed paths when Chloe approached Peter and Michelle to offer her services as a cleaner) and a tenuous friendship begins to form with an undercurrent of sexual attraction that comes to the surface. As the power balance starts to shift, tension builds as it becomes apparent that there is more to Chloe than meets the eye. However, just as the relationship between Amy and Chloe is building towards something really interesting and intense, the story conspires to separate them for a lengthy period, which only serves to sap the film of much of its energy. The two girls are the strength of the film and switching the focus from them to Michelle and Peter is an opportunity lost.
Perhaps it is budget constraints or a lack of oversight during pre-production, but there is a lot left unsaid that certainly could have made it much easier to care about the various participants in the drama. At the end of the day, not even a score by Warren Ellis can prevent Bad Girl from playing out like a 90-minute episode of Home and Away and there are even a couple of River Boy-esque types living on the neighbouring property who clash with Amy and her family. If nothing else, it is a considerable achievement from Edquist to get the film into cinemas given the current domination of overseas content on local screens and whilst the Western Australia-shot film collected some gongs at their state film awards, it is just a shame that Bad Girl doesn’t pack more of a punch.