Like most British teens in the mid to late 80s, I found myself rushing home from school to catch up on antipodean soap operas Neighbours and Home & Away. At school there was an almost sectarian divide between the fan base of each show. Personally, I walked the line and liked both equally. But even through that, and even at such a tender age, I realised there was something missing from these 22 minute slices of life down under. Yes, it was all well and good seeing the latest exploits of Dr Clive Gibbons, or hearing Alf Stewart say Strewth or call someone a Gallah, or see the LSD induced hallucinations of a domesticated dog. But what I really wanted to happen was for the young ‘uns in both series to team up and fight a guerrilla war against an invading force from an unnamed Pacific Rim country. Some twenty years later, I’ve finally got my wish.

I jest.

But in a nutshell, that’s exactly what Aussie teen-drama Tomorrow, When The War Began serves up. Well, that and a comma and awkward tense to make the purchase of the ticket that little bit more uncomfortable.

In the opening set-up sequence we’re introduced to the seven main characters through the eyes of seventeen-year-old Ellie, played by Caitlin Stasey. In a bit of a false step that resonates through the rest of the movie, we learn that the gang mostly aren’t great friends and they’re all a little different and yes, it does feel a bit like The Breakfast Club with an equally optimistic view on what reasonably passes for a teenager (think Judd Nelson who was well into his seventies when he played eighteen-year-old John Bender). In the second set-up, while the audience is wondering if two set-up sequences are really necessary, the newly-formed band go bush for a few days to celebrate the end of school or something. When they return to civilisation from their isolated idyll, they find their parents gone, homes deserted and an invading force rounding people up and sticking them in a field where presumed bad things are going to happen. Australia, it seems, has been invaded. It’s here, some thirty minutes into proceedings, that the movie finally starts.

The action sequences are very well done indeed. Full of tension — at times unbearably so — and making good, practical use of the baddies behind the flashlights technique. Sadly, though, it’s the human side of the war that lets the movie down. With the exception of Stasey, Deniz Akdeniz who plays Homer (yes, I know) and an all too brief cameo from Andy Ryan as Stoner Chris, the rest of the pack are largely charisma-free zones and the fact that we’re never sure if any of them have much of a shared backstory makes it very difficult to comprehend the risks they undertake for each other or the speed at which they adapt to their new surroundings and new rules.

It also feels trapped in a very difficult place where it wants to be taken seriously as a tough invasion movie — to the point where there’s a heavy-handed symbolic reference to Aborigines and colonialism — and then in the next minute there’s some throwaway chick-movie exchange that must surely be there to raise a chuckle. It’s almost like director and writer Stuart Beattie didn’t have the guts to be true to the concept. And for a movie that’s based on a book, why he allowed the line “Most books are better than the movie” to avoid the cutting room floor is anyone’s guess. I don’t really need the reminder.

And for the second time in as many movies, I’m again surprised at what passes for 12A. If some liberal effin and jeffin and doobage smoking isn’t enough, some of the violence certainly felt on the 15 side of strong.

From a Neighbours fan perspective, it has curio value to see what Caitlin Stasey’s been up to since leaving the show but even at that you’re not likely to kick yourself if the movie is in and out of town before you can muster up the energy to go see it.

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