out of Five
Running time: 103
Hugely enjoyable, explosion-packed thriller that plays like an Australian version of Red Dawn and succeeds thanks to an engaging script, a terrific teen cast and pacey direction.
What's it all about?
Directed by Stuart Beattie, Tomorrow, When the War Began is based on the first of a series of seven best-selling young adult novels by John Marsden. Caitlin Stasey stars as Ellie, a typical (if drop-dead gorgeous) 17-year-old in small-town Wirrawee, Australia, who persuades her parents to let her go camping in the Outback over Australia Day weekend, along with best friend Corrie (Rachel Hurd-Wood), Corrie's jock boyfriend Kevin (Lincoln Lewis), wise-cracking male best friend Homer (Deniz Akdeniz), posh girl Fiona (Phoebe Tonkin), Thai tech nerd (and Caitlin's crush) Lee (Chris Pang) and preacher's daughter Robyn (Ashleigh Cummings).
When the teens return from their camping weekend in Hell (no, really, that's what the valley is called), they are shocked to discover that Wirrawee has been overrun by an invading Asian army and that their friends and family are all being held in a prison camp. Massively outnumbered, the group has to decide whether to flee, to surrender or to form their own resistance movement ...
Essentially, this is an Australian version of John Milius' 1984 invasion thriller Red Dawn, only without the accompanying jingoism and commie-bashing (tellingly, the Asian army are never actually identified). Accordingly, the exciting action sequences are well handled by first-time director Beattie, who certainly knows his way round an explosion or two.
The likeable teen (or rather “teen”) cast is superb, particularly Caitlin Stasey, who makes a terrifically engaging lead and generates strong chemistry with Hurd-Wood and Akdeniz. There's also strong support from Cummings and Pang, while Andy Ryan contributes some welcome light relief with a late appearance as a stoner who doesn't know there's a war on.
That's not to say that the film is entirely without flaws – for one thing the kids are a little too clichéd (though they soon create a convincing bond) and their initial assembly seems slightly lazy.
Similarly, there are some frustrating cuts during the escape sequences (the enemy don't seem to be able to run) as well as some annoyingly clumsy moments such as a character injuring themselves in ridiculous fashion, but the pacey direction ensures that these things are swiftly forgotten.
Tomorrow, When the War Began is a hugely enjoyable thriller with appealing franchise potential, thanks to a likeable cast, an exciting Boys' (and Girls') Own adventure-style plot and some impressively directed action scenes. Recommended.
Tomorrow, When the War Began (15)