Scarfies (1999): Robert Sarkies (director) a jpoc movie review
Guess what's lurking in the cellar!
jpoc rating and notes
Five out of ten.
If you are aged 18-25 and drunk, or stoned, you will probably rate it higher.
First of all, a declaration of a likely source of bias. Scarfies is set in Dunedin, jpoc's home town and the most beautiful city on this planet. Deal with it.
Secondly, there are a few things that you need to know in order to understand this movie. "Scarfie" is Dunedin slang for a student because they all wear scarves. British university culture, which of course made its way to New Zealand, includes the wearing of scarves mostly as a display of your group's colours but also, in a place like Dunedin, as a way to keep at bay the cold winds that frequently blow up from the South Pole. Notwithstanding those cold winds, the climate of New Zealand is well suited to the growth of marijuana. Combine that with the isolation of the country and the inaccessibility of much of the land and it is no surprise that dope plantations are hardly rare. Since the police started airborne spotting patrols, many growers have moved their crops into cellars. Finally, like all Kiwis, the citizens of Dunedin are obsessed with Rugby Football. Popular myth has it that a man thinks about sex every seven seconds, not a Kiwi, we're way too busy thinnking about Rugby every five seconds! Women too.
OK, so on to the movie. It's the start of the univeristy year and many students are still looking for a place to live. Scott (Neill Rea) finds an old, abandoned and near derelict house. He sets up home and advertises for other students to share his squat. Soon, he is joined by Emma (Willa O'Neill), Alex (Taika Rea), Nicola (Ashleigh Seagar) and finally by Graham (Charlie Bleakley) who looks much too naive to fit into the life of a student squat but as he actually owns a car - indeed, it's a Holden - he is allowed in.
So, the students settle down to student life. This movie must be recruitment propaganda for Otago university as Dunedin student life seems to consist mostly of parties and sex or, if you are Graham, watching the parties and listening to the sex. Eventually, the students discover the secret of their house. There's no ghost but when they manage to open the locked cellar door they find that it is full of marijuana plants just about ready for harvest. They wait until Otago are playing at home and lug the dope accross empty streets - everyone is watching the game on TV or at the stadium - and sell it at a local gang house.
Having resolved that moral dilemma they then have little trouble deciding to blow all of the money. Of course, that involves tickets for the next home match which is when the dope's rightful owner Kevin (Jon Brazier) turns up to gather his harvest. The initial confrontation is quickly resolved when the fab five lock Kevin in the cellar and try to negotiate with him - the negotiations are of course interrupted so that they can all find out the results of the game. Eventually Kevin makes an escape bid but is overpowered and tied up.
Finally, the students face a situation where they can find no easy way out so they decide that they may as well at least torture Kevin to pass the time.
From here on in the movie goes downhill. I guess that the director has managed to reinforce his point that students - or at least these students - are not moral agents but apart from that he has no more to say. The movie turns from amusing if raw into a circus of the grotesque with few redeeming qualities.
Other movies - True Romance, Atlantic City - have dealt with this theme by portraying the drug finders as attractive characters. You were rooting for Alabama and Clarence all through True Romance weren't you? Not so here and that is one of this film's problems. We are mere spectators here. How can you care about the end if you cannot care about any of the characters?
If you watch this movie with your girlfriend, pretend not to enjoy it - she will not be impressed if you laugh and hoot all the way through it.