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Fair Game (1986, review)

REVIEWER’S NOTE: Due to the nature of the film, this review will frankly discuss cruelty to animals and sexual sadism. If those topics are upsetting to you, I would issue a blanket recommendation to avoid both the following essay and the film it discusses.

 

Fair Game is a 1986 Ozploitation movie directed by Mario Andreacchio (Napoleon) and starring Cassandra Delaney, Peter Ford, David Sanford, and Garry Who.

The film is an example of a particular sub-genre within exploitation pictures: the “woman’s revenge” film, wherein a lone woman is terrorized by a group of sadistic men, receives no help from the proper authorities, and must take matters into her own hands. Ms. 45 and I Spit On Your Grave are probably the best known examples of this particular field of cinematic endeavor.

It goes without saying that this is a genre known for producing extreme films which are not for everyone.

Fair Game centers around Jessica (Cassandra Delaney), a young woman running a wildlife shelter in the Australian outback. Jessica’s got a sheepdog and regular problems with poachers who see the pack of kangaroos on the preserve as more pest than species worth preservation.

When a group of poachers (Ford, Sanford, and Who) kill a kangaroo mother then run Jessica’s truck off the road and the local constabulary declines to intervene, this touches off an escalating battle of wills between Jessica and the poachers that soon spirals out of control as the poachers reveal themselves to be bullies, sadists, and finally attempted murderers. Jessica must defend herself and her preserve with lethal force, in the film’s finale.

Fair Game represents a unique challenge to this reviewer.

It is eminently well photographed, suspenseful, and in the first act at least, intriguing. There is some genuine sexual tension between Delaney and Ford’s characters very early on that would appear to complicate the juvenile antics of Ford’s fellow two poachers, and the structure of escalating prank-and-response is pretty engaging. This is not an exploitation film that must be enjoyed in spite of itself, it is a well-made movie.

That said, there is a war between form and content at play here, because the skill with which the film was made is not supported by a script that has much time for depth or contradiction. Jessica is a heroic protector, and the poachers slip so fast from distinct entities into a pack of sadistic predators that it makes the head spin.

Apart from an ill-considered synth soundtrack the fine craftsmanship of the film continues through the piece, culminating in an outrageous set piece where our hero is strapped naked to a truck and paraded– a scene that will ring bells for anyone who has seen Tarantino’s Death Proof. The only problem is, there’s just nowhere for these characters to go. The poachers torture an animal, Jessica tries to get even, the poachers escalate further until the film’s finale. No one grows, no one changes, if anything character complexity that is displayed in the first act of the film slips away as the men become interchangeable in their petty cruelty.

And so, how apt you are to enjoy this film is really dependent on the viewer’s expectations and priorities. If all you’re interested in is suspense and revenge, this is a well made exploitation film. One could argue that the final revenge of our hero is a bit sudden, and blunted, but it absolutely does work in the overall scheme of things.

However, the constant torture and killing of animals is draining, even to this reviewer who is a veteran of, often a defender of, exploitation films. I must admit that it took away a lot of the distance you need to enjoy cinematic violence because I just didn’t want to think about defenseless animals like kangaroos, horses, and dogs being tortured for sport. There isn’t a larger message about animal cruelty in society either, because these guys are clearly shown to be psychopaths using their remote location and choice of prey as a threadbare cover for their own impulses to do harm.

In these reviews I always try and review the movie that’s actually on screen, and not the one I would have preferred to see in my head, it just so happens that this film suggested a more interesting journey than it was willing to undertake.

Still, the picture is not without technical merit. Recommended, if you can accept the limitations.

3 out of 5 stars

*  *  *  *  *
Produced by Ron Saunders Harley Manners
Screenplay by Rob George
Directed by Mario Andreacchio
Starring Cassandra Delaney, Peter Ford, David Sandford, Garry Who,
Don Barker, Carmel Young, Tony Clay, Adrian Shirley

Fair Game will open theatrically July 8 before a digital release July 12th

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