From the jittery, juddery cuts and distorted sounds of its opening sequence, you can tell that in The Misguided, the feature debut of writer/director/producer/editor/DP Shannon Alexander, reality appears as something negotiable. It is night time in Perth, Australia, and feckless, sponging Levi (Caleb Galati) has arrived at the house of his older half-brother Wendel (Steven J. Mihaljevich), hoping to be put up for a few days after being kicked out by his girlfriend Leah for being ‘a user’. “She’ll be begging me to come back after she calms down,” Levi tells his sceptical brother, “this is just temporary.”
Wendel is a different kind of user. A bisexual sociopath incapable of giving up drugs, dealing and double-dealing despite his aspirations to open a hair salon, and “a maniac incapable of not lying for more than two minutes”, Wendel is charismatic and cocky, but also both literally and metaphorically half-cocked, impotent for all his sexual boasting. “Me and him are just totally different,” Levi tells Wendel’s most recent ex, middle-class student Sanja (Jasmine Nibali) – and at first it seems true, even if Sanja’s little sister Vesna (Katherine Langford, 13 Reasons Why), whether by accident or design, gets the brothers confused. Where Wendell is a clean freak, Levi is messy, and he is also the more laidback and less manipulative of the two – although, having dropped out of university and proved unable to hold onto either a job or a partner, he seems quite like his brother in failing to break out of a perpetual state of betweenness. And Levi, too, is quite good at lying. When Levi starts going out with trusting, loyal Sanja, he might as well be his brother’s understudy, repeating, with the same woman, the same – probably doomed – romantic trajectory.
The first half of The Misguided takes its time observing these flawed characters in all their plans and dreams and addictions, before slyly introducing a more genre-bound plot turn. As Wendel, increasingly addled by crack, finds himself in serious debt to dealer/loan shark Jason (Clay Foster), his brother steps in to help out, even if that means hoodwinking Sanja and jeapardising his goal to move with her to a new life in Melbourne. The scene in which Levi, as part of a hare-brained scheme, allows Wendel to punch him repeatedly in the face encapsulates the destructive – and self-destructive – nature of this pair’s toxic relationship. “People change,” Levi tells Wendel – but Alexander’s film suggests that this may be precisely where he is misguided, as the brothers are taken for a tragic loop that brings them right back to where they started. For, unfolding confidently to its bitter end, this is a study in stasis, catching its players out in endless deceipt and delusion. It is also an impressive calling card for a filmmaker who is, by contrast with his characters, very much on the move.
© Anton Bitel