Ellie Linton (Caitlin Jean Stasey) is determined to escape the confines of Wirrawee, a small Australian township, and decides to embark on a camping trip with best friend Corrie (Rachel Hurd-Wood), and Corrie’s boyfriend Kevin. Told by her parents that they must find another five people if they are to take the family Land Rover, Ellie seeks out next-door neighbour Homer, budding love-interest Lee, posh girl Fi and devout Christian Robyn to join them on their staycation.
Arriving in a remote valley called Hell (I’m not even joking), the friends are deprived of sleep by a never-ending fleet of military aircraft. Thinking nothing of it, the friends finish out their stay before returning home. Finding their houses empty and their parents imprisoned at the local carnival, the friends return to Hell and devise an anti-bridge guerilla mission, with nothing but a gun and a walking stick to their cause.
So, have you ever wondered how the denizens of Summer Bay might fare in the event of a hostile military takeover? Because I certainly haven’t. Occupied by inexplicable “Coalition Nations”, the film does very little with its already uninspiring premise, a disappointing combination of first-book syndrome (the film is adapted from John Marsden’s franchise-spawning novel of the same name) and an unambitious lack of creative licence. With action set pieces that fail to escalate much beyond an exploding lawnmower, and characters that barely push two dimensions, Tomorrow, When The War Began smacks of inconsequentiality. This is an occupied Australia in which you mustn’t go out during the day, unless it suits the plot, and in which an invasion being fed by a never-ending influx of tanks and weapons can’t find seven teenagers and stop an errant garbage disposal truck.
The script fares even worse than the humdrum action, with the few laughs it provokes quickly lost in a cloud of misfires that leave you cringing between winces. “What could possibly go wrong?” is sadly only the first of many piercing clichés, while the late introduction of a bothersome stoner does little but complete the royal flush of teenage stereotypes: the Asian teen preaches to the audience about the ills of pigeonholing moments before inflicting his ninja prowess on a troublesome snake; the rich beauty queen confesses her insecurities between “gosh”‘s and public displays of ignorance; and the stoner wants nothing more than to smoke a dooby until the invasion decides that it’s had enough and goes away. Heck, at one point someone actually says, “you heal well”.
And yet I didn’t hate it. It was strangely refreshing to watch an invasion movie that didn’t feature grizzled American commandos and alien sushi antagonists, director Stuart Beattie’s refrain from showing the Sydney Opera House and a kangaroo in every shot adding to the sense that, like, this could happen to anyone. The issue is that had this have gone straight to DVD and been discovered in a supermarket bargain bin, it would easily be championed as the biggest bargain of all time – a veritable diamond in the rough with that Wendy girl from Peter Pan and explosions that look like they might have actually happened. As it stands, however, this is screening in your local cineplex alongside Source Code, Killing Bono and even Sucker Punch, setting you back the same considerable price of admission. Judging by what’s on offer, you are unlikely to feel satisfied with your purchase.
Enter with no expectations, preferably quite by accident, and you will be shamelessly quasi-entertained by this bonkers Australian invasion flick. Come prepared, however, and there is very little on offer that you won’t find better executed elsewhere. My best advice: read the book, it simply must be better.