“Razorback was a pig, Rogue was a crocodile – they’re real animals. You ain’t seen anything like this before,” grins Luke Sparke when STACK meets with the debutant director.
It’s this point of difference that makes Red Billabong stand out amongst the recent wave of Australian genre films that appropriate zombies, slashers and other horror film staples. Few local films tap into the primal legends of our own land – a fact that Sparke was determined to change.
“When I was looking back at mythology and Australian history, this creature kept coming up, and there’s so many different versions of it, from white European settlers to the 1970s – reports and sightings of something in the woods. The real juicy stuff comes from the Aboriginal Dreamtime, and I respectfully reached out to a lot of groups to make sure I didn’t step on anyone’s toes.
“When I hired Greg Fryer to play Mr. Garvey [the film’s Indigenous hero], he was very excited to bring his culture to a mainstream popcorn film for fun, and hopefully audiences will think about that culture as well.”
Respectful of tribal beliefs, Sparke was mindful to avoid the Dreamtime incarnation of the creature (each tribe has its own different version) and instead looked to classic monster designs for inspiration.
“I wanted the traditional look – the silhouette is this very mean shape with big arms, little head and big feet. I also wanted a distinctive bellow for the creature, like what was heard in the outback legends,” he explains.
As for the human element, Red Billbong focuses on a pair of estranged brothers – played by Home and Away heartthrob Dan Ewing and Dance Academy’s Tim Pocock – who must put aside their differences when they discover something big and unnatural lurking in the vicinity of their late grandfather’s bush property.
In casting his leading men, Sparke wanted actors who could comfortably inhabit their characters and be able to improvise. “Dan was one of the very first people I went to, and he and I just clicked because he loves ‘80s movies,”says the director who grew up on a diet of films like Predator and Aliens.
“Tim was the last person I cast, and he’s a stroke of genius because he took that character in a different direction – he was the whiny younger brother in my script.”
Sparke hopes that viewers get behind Red Billabong for its entertainment value, and also to ensure that more Australian films like it get made. “It’s not going to change your life, but it’s a fun two hours,” he promises. “If audiences back this we can continue to make Australian genre films to offset the great dramas we make. More adrenaline-junkie films that people can have fun with.”