dir: Matthew Seville
Who doesn’t love a bit of aural every now and then?

Noise is a moody Australian character piece about a depressed Melbourne cop who’s not really that into his job. Despite the murder investigation going on around him, his story is tangential to the grand drama occurring outside his skull.

Some nutter goes crazy on a Melbourne suburban train, and shoots every person in a particular carriage. A girl, Livinia (Maia Thomas), who gets on the train just after her shift at Macca’s has ended and just after the massacre has occurred, sees the bodies and the killer as well, making her the only witness.

Concurrently, copper Graham McGahan (Brendan Cowell) at another train station gets a call on his CB radio, but doesn’t seem to be able to hear the dispatcher. His hearing problem gets worse until he collapses on an escalator.

His unimpressed senior sergeant, ignoring the medical diagnosis of persistent tinnitus (ringing in the ears), seconders the hapless cop to an information-gathering caravan in the suburb of Sunshine, at the site of another murder that might be connected to the train killings.

His job is to sit in the caravan during the night shift, in order to give members of the public the chance to come forward with information regarding the crimes.

Of course, the cops know the likelihood of getting any valuable tips overnight from those they call “mouth breathers” is highly unlikely. So putting him there is more of a punishment or a penalty box kind of task to keep him out of harm’s way and also to take care of public-perception obligations in the lead up to Christmas when other ‘real’ cops are on leave.

McGahan clearly doesn’t relish the task, enjoy being a cop, or really think there’s much point to anything that he does. His girlfriend is a cop as well, and she seems most happy when she’s getting stoned, which I wouldn’t have thought was a career-enhancing move for a police officer, but what do I know.

Noise isn’t the kind of film that has large swathes of plot or exposition. It’s a mood piece, so most of the film transpires at the caravan, with McGahan alternately doing nothing, or having conversations that have nothing to do with anything in what we think of as the main premise. And the ringing in his ears is getting worse.

The noise in his head is especially bad at home, and it leads to some freak out scenes (some of which don’t really work) where he can’t figure out what’s going on at the same time as his stoner cop partner freaks out because she sees him with his gun out and figures him for being suicidal.

I think McGahan is depressed, but it’s not made explicit, in the same manner that most of the key elements of the story are allowed to grow out organically and nothing is over-explained. In fact, a lot of stuff isn’t even explained, let alone over.

The crime itself, both on the train, and some of the stuff the killer does subsequently, are shocking in the context of an Australian film. I mean, we’re not talking about Wolf Creek here. Noise depicts a frightening, almost chaotic danger lurking within the damaged hearing of our protagonist, and outside his caravan, as we are all at the mercy of a truly frightening and inexplicable killer.

There is some gloriously Australian cinematography in this flick, courtesy of Laszlo Baranyai. Shots of the evening sky, with the police caravan in the lower left or right hand corners of the screen, as this vast darkening sky looms above it, are superlative. Too beautiful, almost. It is so well shot (using 35mm film) and so well put together that it mostly makes up for the lapses in acting that occur infrequently. Cowell as the protagonist is good 95 per cent of the time, but has some weak moments, which don’t damage the production enough to detract from one’s enjoyment of it. It doesn’t pander, it doesn’t spoon-feed, and it doesn’t feel conventional in the slightest. It is simultaneously uncomfortable, engaging, vivid and unsatisfying all at the same time.

Livinia, as the one witness, has some freak-out scenes that are less convincing than times when soccer players fall over and cradle their ankles in an operatic fashion, desperate for that penalty kick. But she does okay at representing the terror of a person who becomes part of a crime story unwillingly. Especially when she realises the killer knows exactly who she is and exactly how to find her.

Of the people who do actually come to the caravan, it’s a motley crew reflecting the motley nature of a suburb like Sunshine. Lucky Phil with his dog Bowser is the local (in the words of the police) nuffer who is harmless but, because of his trainspotter ways, crucial in revealing a plot point we might pick up on that McGahan himself is too dejected to notice.

Another guy is the fiancé of the dead woman killed in Sunshine (Damian Richardson), who deals with equal parts grief over her loss and bitterness towards the cops for the initial implication of his involvement in her death. He and McGahan spend time together in uneasy but perversely comfortable silence when they’re not mumbling about stuff.

For a flick called Noise, you’d expect some thought put in regarding the use of sound throughout its duration, and you’d be more than right. The sound design is incredible and meticulously carried out, but doesn’t overdo or overstay its welcome. It enhances the uneasy feel of the story as it rolls out, and peaks to give us a terrifying insight into the chaotic world that McGahan faces. He is more than reluctantly dragged into a situation he has no desire to be in, and a compromised ability to deal with. When the shit hits the fan, he is still a cop with a duty to perform in terms of protecting, but he is desperately hampered by his impediments, as are we all.

When a final confrontation comes out of nowhere, unpredicted, unexpected and unholy in a way, it left me stunned. The brutality of what happens at the end, in fact the cold-bloodedness of some of the deaths that occur surprise even an old curmudgeon like me. This is Australia, after all. Sure we have kill crazy psychopaths and the occasional spree-killing, but they are so rare as to almost allow ourselves to forget the viciousness that people are capable of; the horrific potential of chaos that looms just outside of our field of vision and hearing.

I can’t claim to understand half of what the film was probably trying to do, and I’m not going to pretend it’s an entirely enjoyable experience. But it is pretty well done, and doesn’t follow many of the paths of least resistance that most flicks, Aussie or otherwise, can’t wait to trip over.

8 ways in which this flick managed to shock even me out of 10

“You’re a really good listener” - Noise