out of Five
Running time: 84
Impressively directed, beautifully shot and quirkily irreverent, this is an entertaining, frequently fascinating documentary that manages to be both chilling and laugh-out-loud funny while delivering a serious ecological message.
What's it all about?
Cane Toads: The Conquest (3D) is writer-director Mark Lewis' follow-up to his own 1988 documentary Cane Toads: An Unnatural History, though it's not necessary to have seen the first film beforehand. The film explores Northern Australia's cane toad problem, beginning in 1932, when Cyril Pemberton brought 102 toxic cane toads to Queensland from Puerto Rico, hoping they would eat the greyback cane beetles that were destroying the country's sugar cane crops.
However, the toads failed and quickly began to multiply, to the point where there are now an estimated 1.5 billion of them and they're rapidly migrating across the country, essentially invading in the manner of 1950s sci-fi creature features. Narrated by a wide range of talking heads, the film gives the history of the problem and sets out the ways that various people (some calling themselves “Toad Busters”) are trying to combat it, while also telling several personal stories, occasionally with the aid of staged reconstructions.
A large part of the film consists of shots of the toads themselves (some surely staged with the aid of expert toad wranglers) in the manner of a David Attenborough documentary and they prove to be resourceful little blighters, congregating under insect-zapping lamps in order to lazily catch insects and generally defeating all efforts to halt their westward migration. And as such, the film is beautifully shot.
Some of the stories are surprisingly moving (particularly the people who adopt cane toads as pets), while some are quirky (the travelling toad show man who stuffs toads and poses them in a series of tableaux) and some are shocking, such as the man who electrocuted himself while enjoying an evening of toad stabbing with a lady friend.
However, the film's oddest moments are both dog-related: firstly, Lewis persuades a couple (and their dog) to re-enact the moment where their dog collapsed and was rushed to hospital after receiving toad poisoning (they're highly toxic), only to wake up from what was essentially a flat-lining doggy-coma. Secondly, a woman relates how her dog has become addicted to toad-licking and has learned how to lick just enough to get high without getting ill: cue druggy doggy point-of-view shots.
By turns chilling, informative and laugh-out-loud funny, this is a thoroughly entertaining eco-doc that's well worth seeking out. Recommended.