At first glance, Angus Sampson’s The Mule, seems like yet another Aussie film about heroin, bogans, toilets and other tired Ausploitation clichés. And, yes, some of those clichés are indeed present, but this time within a fresh, entertaining, well-crafted film where they are used to set up, then break down, expectations.
“There’s a little perversion in there: we wanted to do all those things,” Sampson says. “We wanted to say, ‘You heard this is a film about not going to the toilet, and you think it’ll be scatological’ but then play with that and make a suspenseful version.”
The Mule is set in the early ‘80s in Melbourne’s western suburbs. Ray Jenkins (Angus Sampson) is an ordinary guy who is a little slow-witted and too honest. His shady mates Gavin (Leigh Whannell), and Pat (John Noble) convince him to mule heroin (in his stomach) back from their footy club’s trip to Thailand. His inexperience and anxiety lead to being caught by the police (Hugo Weaving and Ewen Leslie), who can hold him without charge for seven days, but can’t force him to go to the toilet. If Ray can outwit the cops and the crooks who are after him, as well as avoid the wrath of his mum (Noni Hazlehurst) and the toilet, he’ll be apples.
“Leigh and I wanted to do something together,” explains Sampson. “So I sent him a script by a mate, Jamie Browne. We thought we should try and make it a little less earnest – Jamie’s version was about civil liberties. Then, to people like Hugo Weaving, Noni Hazlehurst and John Noble, I sent the script and a slide show of photos of a fishing village set to the tunes of Eddy Current Suppression Ring … I wanted to do something a bit more esoteric to get them interested.”
It’s this irreverent attitude, steeped in a quintessentially Aussie cultural milieu, that makes The Mule work. Much like Animal Kingdom, Chopper and The Castle, there’s a highly stylised, idealised bogan Australia that you can’t help but love. But, and without being obvious satire, it takes these elements (and audience expectations) and turns them into a structurally sound, thoughtful, darkly funny and rather tense film that ranks with the best of them. You’re expecting a lame scatological humour-filled film with a lot of fart jokes about “cutting the cheese” and tired sight-gags about mullets, thongs and short shorts, but Sampson uses the ’80s Aussie setting to present a story where characters keep their motivations hidden, and you’re constantly second guessing their real motivations.
The release too, is unusual. Rather than being shown at a few cinemas for a short period, Sampson elected to go straight to digital, and has released the film for download on iTunes, Google Play, Sony PlayStation, Microsoft Xbox and Dendy Direct. It’s also on Blu-ray and DVD, so your copy can go “straight to the pool room”.
The Mule is available to download at 212ignite.com.au/themule.