In a prosperous Australian landscape where indistinguishable subdivision housing sits seemingly adrift in a sea of wilderness, 19-year old Katrina Skinner (Emily Barclay) strides across the landscape like a colossus, inhaling cocaine and spitting out invective, ruling her peer group with an iron fist and lipstick-smeared mouth, dispensing scorn and oral sex with equal vigor. As Suburban Mayhem opens, Katrina's being interviewed by a film crew about the murder of her father. It's suggested that all this might be a bit of a blow to her, but she smiles to the camera. "Well, I got interviewed for a magazine and now you're making a film about me, so it's okay. ..."
Directed by Paul Goldman from a script by Alice Bell, Suburban Mayhem is about Katrina's rise and rise as her dearly beloved and desperately dim brother Danny (Laurence Breuls) earns a life sentence for murder and then, a short time after, her father is killed. The film is part interviews conducted by the film crew with the people in Katrina's life -- from her dimwit partner Rusty (Michael Dorman) to her heartbroken family friend Auntie Diane (Genevieve Lemon). Another part is dizzy, speed-paced visual comedy and hyper-editing, as when we're told that Katrina has a different boyfriend for every letter of the alphabet and then are shown the menu screen of her cell phone zipping alphabetically from lover to lover. A third part is devoted to histrionic acting in scenes of familial tension and murder; however, these parts don't add up to a satisfying whole.
Suburban Mayhem falls into a chasm of its own making: The revved-up visual inventions over-the-top amorality and occasional laugh line make it impossible to take the film seriously as a drama. But the lengthy scenes of squalid squabbles and family wounds lanced open by sharp tongues make it impossible to sit back and enjoy the comedy. Suburban Mayhem could have been pushed more firmly in either direction, either as gonzo comedy or sober-sided drama. Those films wouldn't have been anything we hadn't seen before, but they would probably have felt less disjointed and uneven than the film we've been given.
Much has been made of Barclay's performance as Katrina, but the part as written is one of those dream parts actors run to like bees to a hive: Sensual, evil, conniving, showy: Katrina's like Lady Macbeth in an acid-wash jean dress. The soundtrack's mix of onetwothreefour! pop tunes revs the film up a little, and there are a few nice shots (a vision of Katrina's drug addict biological mother coming to the house for money over and over and over again is shot to look like a zombie movie moment), but Suburban Mayhem spins between poles so shakily that it goes off track, wobbling with heavy-handed eccentricity and spinning with hysterical, phony emotion.