For a micro-budgeted film to catch my attention it needs to adhere to a few basic rules. The camera requires a steady hand, the edit must be taut, and the story has to be compelling, and for a modest film to present confidently it needs to account for every dollar spent and look more prestigious than it actually is. There's an art to the bluff and all of these attributes apply to BURNS POINT, a new Australian thriller from father & son team Chris and Tim Blackburn.

The film tells the twisted story of Jeremy, a man on the run who seeks refuge on a remote island following the murder of his sister. With blood on his own hands he finds himself hunted by a crooked cop who also happens to be the killer’s father. In a desperate bid to disappear Jeremy holds up on a property where he befriends the landowner and his daughter-in-law.

It’s a migraine-inducing storyline that fails to resonate in print, yet succeeds triumphantly on screen, and if that synopsis is lost on you then rest assured that BURNS POINT offers a story that flows fluidly while being packed with the sort of complexity that good film-noirs are made of. There are plot devices scattered throughout that provide various degrees of character development and make it very hard to describe without giving too much away.

It comes as no surprise that such a humble film as this would boast so much grandeur when you discover that its makers come from a television background. Writer/Producer Chris Blackburn comes to the project from a 20-year career in TV and has produced programs such as Big Brother, The Gruen Transfer and My Kitchen Rules, while his son – director – Tim Blackburn is a television editor in Canada. It would seem that their media experience has given them an edge that few other first time feature-filmmakers would have, and as a result they have hand-crafted an intelligent thriller that recalls the work of John Sayles (Limbo, Lone Star) and Andrey Zvyagintsev (The Return, Laviathan).The first striking quality of BURNS POINT is its cinematography. With a nicely framed opening wide shot cinematographer Kent Marcus reassures the viewer that they’re in capable hands, and from that moment the film plays out in a beautifully stylised way, with as much attention given to the landscape as is given to the characters. The camera captures the unfolding drama in a dignified manner and resists the temptation to exploit the cliched shaky-cam style. We watch the events unfold through a series of controlled panning shots, arial perspectives and anchored observation. All of which is accompanied by an effectively understated score that provides the type of mood you might expect from a Coen Brothers film. And the editing… it’s tight. Tim Blackburn has applied his craft brilliantly and knows precisely how much to reveal, and how much to conceal. Given his capacity as a TV editor, this is perhaps the film’s biggest strength.

The cast is comprised of seasoned television actors including Ron Kelly (Sea Patrol, Voyage of the Dawn Trader), Francesca Bianchi (House Husbands) and John Rado (Silent Witness, Borgias). They all give strong turns and understand the confines of the production… that is to say that they keep their performances suitably low-key, in line with the overall ambience of the film, and allow their lead actor Andrew Lowe (in his feature film debut) to shine. He carries the film confidently and gives the story much of its integrity.

BURNS POINT is a well made dramatic thriller that offers a unique setting to a classic genre, and it has come at a time when other similarly-styled Aussie films have failed (ah-hem Goldstone.. ah-hem The Daughter). ​It is a viscerally appealing film that will  hopefully mark the beginning of a long and audacious career for Tim Blackburn.

A slow-burn crime melodrama that recalls such significant Australian works as Ray Lawrence’s Lantana and Anna Reeves’ The Oyster Farmer, the coastal-set thriller Burns Point proves a compelling calling-card effort for debutant director Tim Blackburn and his scriptwriter dad, Chris.

A slow-burn crime melodrama that recalls such significant Australian works as Ray Lawrence’s Lantana and Anna Reeves’ The Oyster Farmer, the coastal-set thriller Burns Point proves a compelling calling-card effort for debutant director Tim Blackburn and his scriptwriter dad, Chris.

Utilising the picturesque surrounds of the New South Wales’ township of Ballina, the young filmmaker confidently weaves an ambiguously murky morality narrative steeped in revenge, family ties and dark anti-heroism. The thematic heritage, protagonist’s vengeful motivations and vast, photogenic backdrop (captured in all its widescreen beauty by rising DOP talent, Kent Marcus) posits Blackburn’s film as a ‘revenge western’ update darkened with shades of film noir.

Despite his boyish presence as the frontman of an otherwise muscular work, Andrew Lowe is capable as Jeremy Wilman, returning to his childhood hometown as the grieving brother of a murdered girl (Lyndal Moody, fleetingly). The killer has walked free thanks to the influence of crooked cop father Ken Stafford (a seething Ron Kelly), but Jeremy cannot let his sister’s murderer escape justice; he draws upon local connections in the form of Joel Spreadborough’s memorable tough guy to inflict some eye-for-an-eye retribution (the revenge is swift and brutal, in one of the otherwise understated film’s nastier moments.)

As word spreads of his involvement, Wilman finds solitude and shelter in a canefield clearing, the expanse filled with the shells of former homes that are now only weathered reminders of past lives (the historic Empire Vale providing the evocative backdrop). Here, he reconnects with a sense of family, befriending the gruff landowner Bryan (John McNeill) and his wildchild daughter-in-law, Myriam (Francesca Bianchi, the film’s biggest asset), both solid support characters afforded strong dramatics moments by Blackburn Snr, a TV production veteran (Big Brother; My Kitchen Rules; The Gruen Transfer). The final reel ‘showdown’ that the film’s western heritage demands is inevitable but delivers.

The elder Blackburn’s script doesn’t push genre boundaries, favouring strong characterisations and dark atmospherics over new directions. But the father-son creative team prove that blood ties and north coast waters are a good mix; Burns Point is low-key, moody and psychologically complex contemporary storytelling, the likes of which are attempted far too infrequently by Australian filmmakers, and deserves to be noticed.

What would you do to protect your family’s honour? This is the question Burns Point, the new Australian thriller, creatively explores. Written and produced by Chris Blackburn, and directed by his son Tim, the father and son duo cleverly places the audience in morally uncomfortable situations, forcing us to question the danger of blind family loyalty.

Mr Blackburn said the idea for the movie stemmed from a seemingly insignificant outing with a friend one day and a conversation surrounding a murder in the newspaper they both read. 

“If someone killed my children, I’d kill them,” his friend responded with unexpected veracity to which Mr Blackburn continued to argue that a reasonable, everyday person wouldn’t go to that extreme level. 

But again, the friend disagreed creating a series of questions for the writer. 

“I’m interested in everyday, law abiding citizens, what would they do if terrible things happened ?” he said. “Would they stand up and say they’re not going to cop it?” 

The movie follows the internal conflict of a young man who finds that his sister has died at the hands of her fiance. Grief is soon overridden by anger as the fiance’s father, a police officer, manipulates the jury in an attempt to set his son free. 

Set in a fictional city, themes of revenge, pride, love and honesty take the main stage, which contrasts the calm landscape of Northern NSW. 

“You would say revenge is never productive for anyone, it never solved anything,” he said, reflecting on the films message. 

“To want and desire revenge when you’ve been wronged is a waste of time. It will only end in more trouble as this movie shows.” 

Burns Point won best film at this year’s Sanctuary Cove Film Festival and was also selected for the Byron Bay Film Festival and Western Australia’s CinefestOZ Festival. 

Mr Blackburn said regional communities and cinemas are an integral platform for the Australian film industry, and encouraged spaces like the Lilac Cinema to spread local content. Burns Point will screen at the Lilac Cinema until February 24.

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