In Swan View, on the eastern outskirts of Perth where the boundaries between city and bush are ill-defined, the corpse of 18-year-old Tracey Myers has been found. Tracey is the Laura Palmer of Western Australian suburbia – a high school girl who had her whole future ahead of her, but also a junkie on a downward spiral that ended in her ignominious death. Full of heroin and showing signs of struggle, her body exposes tensions in a neighbourhood broken by dysfunction and neglect – and so this mystery opening to Steven J. Mihaljevich‘s feature debut The Xrossing promises a forensic autopsy, where it is a whole community, perhaps even an entire nation, on the slab.
While Tracey will never fully come of age, three young men – former classmates of the dead girl – are going through their own rites of passage. Shane (Jacob O’Neill) hopes to follow in the bad-boy footsteps of his older brother Phoenix (played by the director) – a local ex-con dealer and ‘violent sociopath’ – even as the conflicted Phoenix himself, unexpectedly self-knowing for a vicious brute, would prefer his beloved little bother to go in a different, more legitimate direction. Feckless but ambitious, Angus (Jamie Smith) drifts between short-term employment, drugs and video games. Meanwhile Chris (Luke J. Morgan) – the putative protagonist of this ensemble film – seeks both personal improvement and an escape from his negative environment by studying film at a TAFE in the City. Yet despite their different trajectories, Shane, Angus and Chris still unite – with varying degrees of enthusiasm and reluctance – in an campaign of vandalistic harassment against Robert ‘Bobby’ Bouratch (Kelton Pell), whose house abuts the place where Tracey’s body was discovered.
In a sense, this escalating intimidation is just three young men acting out, with a modicum of vengeful vigilantism mixed in. For, according to neighbourhood rumour, Bobby murdered Tracey, and she was Shane’s sometime girlfriend. Yet despite Shane’s denial of any discrimination on his part, his insistence on referring to their target as ‘Black’ Bobby and a ‘dumb Abo’ betrays a racist element underlying his vendetta – while his evidence-free assumption of Bobby’s guilt involves a different kind of prejudice. Only Chris, who dreams of a better life with privileged fellow student Abbey (Georgia Eyers), will apologise to, and get to know, the musician Bobby, finding in him a decent, Mr Miyagi-like father figure in an environment from which real fathers are largely absent. Yet even as Chris grows to like and respect Bobby, Shane still circles looking for revenge, while Phoenix’s Machiavellian consigliere Sav (Caleb Galati) and the police watch from the sidelines – and in the accidents, misunderstandings and manipulations that ensue, tragedy becomes inevitable.
“We should have paradise,” run the plaintive lyrics in the self-penned chant of Bobby Bouratch that Chris and Abbey document on film, “We all live in paradise.” Setting its human dramas against beautifully shot natural landscapes, and contrasting its characters’ lack of prospects with the panoramic clifftop vistas from which Swan View takes its name, The Xrossing is concerned with young lives damaged by a lack of positive male rôle models or indeed hope. Meanwhile, the serial scapegoating of Bobby himself dramatises a long and uncomfortable aspect of the colonial history of Australia (of which this suburb proves a microcosm). For white settlers have repeatedly marginalised, mocked and mistreated the indigenous population, while invading and annexing their land. His property graffitied and burgled and his person assaulted, Bobby is just one endpoint in a continuing narrative of injustice that accidentally intersects with Tracey’s own fate. The result is a confident first film about a nation still struggling with growing pains amid its own toxic legacy.
strap: Steven J. Mihaljevich’s Perth-set feature debut shows three young men coming of age in a toxic community
© Anton Bitel