Rhys and Lawrence are a father-son duo trying to spend “quality time” together. The pair haven’t spent a lot of time together, but Lawrence wants to make it up to Rhys… by killing a calf and eating it for dinner.
Rhys tries to go along with his father’s idea of family bonding, but his father’s new partner Scarlett — who says Rhys has a “murky aura” — doesn’t make things any easier. And once the bonding exercise goes awry, certain issues come to a head — and clear the space to forge a new bond.
Told with an understated sense of absurdity and an ironic eye for the foibles of human relationships, this short dramedy by writer-director Bryn Chainey is about a family finding its equilibrium, as a father and son try to bridge the gulf between them.
Shot in a naturalistic style that captures this isolated corner of Australia, the strength of the film lies in its writing, which possesses both dry wit and an understanding of the central emotional dilemma that pulls the story forward. Its humor is based more on the absurdities of human behavior and the eccentricities of character, as well as the odd choices that people make… such as a father thinking that killing a calf for dinner would make for a good family memory.
With this humanistic, character-centered approach to comedy, the ensemble of performances in the film always have their pulse on emotional truth, while still hitting their comedic beats. Young actor Nicholas Bakopoulos-Cooke captures the put-upon nature of an archetypal teenager, putting up with ineffectual and often hypocritical grown-up behavior, while as his father actor Steve Rodgers possesses an amiability and eager-to-please quality that is both sweet and passive. It’s easy to see how much Lawrence loves his son, and also why Rhys is so frustrated with him.
As his girlfriend Scarlett, actress Sacha Horler almost runs away with the film with a tough, almost satirical riff on the New Age “spiritual” type — one who also has no compunction about the practicalities of bleeding out a calf. (Points, too, for capturing a terrific animal performance without over-milking it.)
When Scarlett barrels ahead with the increasingly farcical charade of this particular male bonding exercise, Rhys is pushed to the edge, in a climax that has a hilarious yet bittersweet domino effect on everyone’s lives.
“Kill Your Dinner” almost verges on farce near its end, but it never quite topples over into it, thanks to pitch-perfect writing and performances. Its emotional conflicts are very real and very relatable, but the storytelling carries this baggage lightly. As the main characters drive off into the distance at the end, the story earns a funny, endearing poignancy, thanks to its affection for the contradictions of human beings — and its recognition that many of our stumbles and falls are a result of our best intentions.