Quentin Tarantino, when referring to Fair Game (1986), said the following:
“FAIR GAME’ has badass scary bitching mechanical monsters, bad guys are driving…they are kangaroo killers which automatically makes them the bad guys…and they’re f**king with the chick”
Indeed, following in the footsteps of classic revenge films such as ‘DEATH WISH’ (1974) and ‘EXTREMITIES’ (1986), Mario Andreacchio 1986’s Ozploitation thriller presents a unique narrative where the star power is not only in the small and talented cast, but in the isolated and hot Australian outback. An attractive and seemingly timid outback nature reserve keeper Jessica (Cassandra Delaney) suddenly become targeted by a group of thugs, initially out to hunt kangaroos but soon focus all their attention on Jessica. The harassment gradually escalates in severity, with the three thugs initially running her off the road but their tormenting becomes more sinister as they stalk her and break into her farm-house.
This results in the most infamous scene (used on earlier promotional material) where Jessica, is tied spread-eagle to the front of their pickup truck (nicknamed ‘The Beast’) is driven around perilously and in a partial state of undress. A mortifying scene no doubt and one that would seemingly remain on the editing floor if released in the current era; however, this goes to show the brutal depravity of Jessica’s antagonists, whilst cartoonish in parts it doesn’t shy away from the notion that sadistic types do exist in all walks of any society.
Jessica’s transformation into a one-woman army isn’t sudden neither forced as she rises from the ashes of her innocence and becomes imbued with the spirit of vengeance. And this all seems justified as her life has been destroyed, her homestead decimated and her being defiled by lawless thugs that have no concept of civility. The actual real imagery of kangaroo carcasses add a further layer of shock value in addition to gratuitous shots of a half-naked Jessica being leered at by her tormentors.
The trio of these thugs are masterfully played by deliberately contrasting choices, with the good looking but menacing Sonny (Peter Ford); the energetic but unhinged Ringo (David Sandford) and the chubby yet comedic Sparks (Garry Who). Their taunting is constant and boorish, whilst Jessica (whose husband is away on business) does her best to rebuff them as politely as she can. And yet the more she resists, the more aggressive they become and this results in a literal battle of life or death. Under the scorching outback sun, there is a true sense of isolation with the protagonist miles away from civilisation and any real level of law enforcement.
For some, this is unashamedly a down under version of the infamous ‘I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE’ (1978) yet Fair Game is unique to stand on its own as a truly Australian revenge film with a resourceful female heroine. Whilst as an Australian thriller, it may not have the same creative complexity as say ‘RAZORBACK’ (1984) or the psychological nuance of ‘WAKE IN FRIGHT’ (1971), Fair Game is a true tour de force with a satisfying though over-the-top conclusion.
Though the film does expect viewers to suspend their beliefs throughout the entire run time, an otherwise weak script still does manage to present Jessica as a likable and sympathetic heroine that is quick to adapt and respond to the unfair harassment. There is a subtext of sorts ie. unchecked violence in far remote communities, however it is unlikely that the Director sought to push this social commentary and instead leverage the stunning good looks of Cassandra Delaney into a revenge-cum-action movie.
However, it’d be remiss to paint Fair Game as a pale imitation of its predecessors as this thriller does subvert some elements of the female revenge tropes. Under the Australian lens, Jessica is never presented as a weakling but rather a quietly confident woman that is steadfast in protecting her domain. Similarly, the hunters whilst reprehensible are not complete fiends per se but rather a group of loutish brutes that have no concept of limits and act out in a crude fashion that gets worse and worse.
Consequently, the battle between Jessica and the trio of thugs becomes more compelling when the viewer begins to understand that this fight is one of wills and attrition – thereby creating a greater sense of intensity as much as urgency, as Jessica isn’t afraid to raise the stakes in her proactive methods in ‘one-upping’ her antagonists. Her methods veer from the more comical (sticking an anti-hunting adhesive label on their hunting truck) to more lethal (attempting to trap them in an abandoned mine) – and yet in each iteration of her vengeance, the audience will continue to cheer her on as she presents far more thoughtfulness and intricate planning into each of her exploits.
Whilst Rob George’s script is passable and Ashley Irwin’s score is bizarre and outdated, Director Mario Andreacchio has been competent in weaving a very intriguing tension filled narrative and establishing some exciting set pieces. Andrew Lesnie’s choice of certain exterior film locations and associated wild life do effectively showcase the desolate haunting beauty of the Australian outback, with some creative camera work.
This film has a notorious reputation with critics unfairly decrying it as a violent shlock-fest, perhaps making this movie impossible to locate (for rental) in the 1990s and 2000s. However, viewing this on its modern re-release with an enhanced picture and sound quality, one can truly appreciate a more unique take on the otherwise typical female revenge thriller. Yet it provides just enough tension and suspense within its palatable pacing, that this could be seen as one of Australia’s best action-horror hybrids with a very glamorous yet capable heroine.
Fair Game will open theatrically from Dark Star Pictures on July 8 before a digital release July 12. A physical release of the is planned for August.