Oh dear. I just couldn’t buy into the exaggerated and desperate attempts to make this misfire a pulpy Ozploitation film. The problem with trying to embody something that is as elusive and cultish as Ozploitation, or any subculture of film for that matter, is that by doing so you run the serious risk of automatic exclusion. The reek of effort to appear cultish is pungent in Musclecar, and it’s a stench that lingers throughout the entire film. Crafting a badly acted, badly written, and poorly edited film that is shot on a potato does not automatically qualify you for cult status.
Instead of pouring so much effort into trying to make Musclecar feel and look like the golden oldies of the Ozploitation hall of fame (e.g. Dead-End Drive In and Razorback), Musclecar should have simply tried to be a decent, albeit completely off-centre film. There’s nothing wrong with eccentricity or oddball in film. In fact, when done well, people become rather infatuated with such charms (refer to Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands for one of the more renowned kooky cult classics).
To differentiate between trying and being cult, let’s look outside of Ozploitation and into one of the biggest modern cult classics: Tommy Wiseau’s abominable loveable mess The Room. That film is so bad, yet so sincere in trying to be good, that it is now a regular on the “midnight movies” circuits throughout the world. Furthermore, and larger still, its essence has also been turned into a parody film by James Franco and friends (The Disaster Artist). Now that is a cult film, and one that grew its reputation organically.
I don’t want to sound too conceited, and I do love and support Aussie cinema, however Musclecar is bad, and not in a good way. The “story” focuses upon Bambi (Jacinta Stapleton, Neighbours), a young woman with a penchant for 50s glam and 60s musclecars. An aspiring actress, she blows her last $10,000 on an admittedly beautiful 1968 Dodge Phoenix after being promised by her agent that she is being wired a bunch of money for her upcoming film project. She drives her new beast home, leading to the first of many needlessly misogynistic “gags” in Musclecar. Bambi runs out of fuel, only for a couple of Kiwi lads to help her out, addressing her solely as “bitch” or “dumb bitch” several times across a short sequence (they help her push the car home). One might argue that such dialogue is an attempt to develop a mood or tone for the film, but its execution here just comes off as jarring, mean and unnecessary.
The acting is atrocious, and the dialogue is about as bad. I cringed throughout Musclecar’s 75-minute run-time, feeling like I was being throttled from one half-baked “ha, this is a mentally deranged, far out, cultish story” idea to the next. Also, it’s very difficult to tell how time works amidst the story, with characters coming and going constantly, mostly for the purpose of shamelessly obvious exposition. The efforts in creating a “descent into madness” for Bambi is dreadfully inept, and this failure ensures that the big idea bears only shrivelled, stale fruit.
On that note, the big idea here is that Bambi ultimately conquers the mysteries of voodoo, and becomes something of a serial killer (the victims’ blood fuels her project, you see). Such a concept is all in the name of bringing her beautiful car to life. Literally. Yep, you read that right.
The one bright spot is in the inclusion of animated comic-book style panels that are injected regularly in order to separate or punctuate scenes, or for exposition purposes. They’re far more effective than the live scenes; it’s clear this film would have fared much better in animated form. Filmmaker Dwayne Labbé can take (legitimate) credit for these exquisite animations. Unfortunately, the direction and writing of basically every live-action moment is far from up to scratch, resulting in one mess of a film.
Musclecar is too caught up in trying to become an instant cult-classic that it fails to even be worthy of a viewing. It’s unwatchable.
THE REEL SCORE: 2/10
‘Musclecar’ will be screening at Sydney’s A Night of Horror International Film Festival 2017.