Want to avoid a national invasion and war? A camping trip may be the solution. So, grab your tent, a few mates, a sleeping bag and head for the bush. This is the rough plot of the explosion-fuelled, teenage angst-ridden film, ‘Tomorrow when the War Began.’ Adapted from the popular series by John Marsden, six teenagers find themselves accidently avoiding capture while on a camping trip. The teens scoff chocolate and fight off sleeping-bag snakes while their families and the rural townsfolk of Wirrawee get rounded up like cattle by an unknown military force. When the teens return home they return to a ghost town of dead dogs, cut powerlines, and find their families detained behind barb wired fences. The teens must struggle with the harsh realities of war and find resilience to fight for survival.
The protagonist and leader of the group is Ellie Linton (Caitlin Stasey) who is most recognised from ‘Neighbours.’ She is introduced with shampoo-ad shiny hair, sawing a tree in half with a chainsaw wearing short-shorts. She’s a farmer’s daughter, a tom-boy. But short-shorts in the bush? It’s cringe-worthy material. Despite the costume critique of the opening scene, Stasey’s performance as the ruthless, headstrong female of the group is spot-on. Her reaction to the war is gripping and realistic.
However the same acting ability cannot be said for the rest of the teenagers. While Ellie and her friends are still a likeable bunch, their performance as an ensemble are somewhat clichéd and hollow. The interesting and dynamic characters of the page are not given justice when converted to a scripted character on the screen. There’s Kevin the surfy, blonde, jock (Lincoln Lewis), who perhaps just walked off the set from ‘Home and Away’, Corrie the best-friend and girlfriend (Rachel Hurd Wood), Fi the upper-class townie (Phoebe Tonkin), Homer the rebel, Greek and alpha male (Deniz Akdeniz), Lee the quiet Asian (Chris Pang ) and Robyn the moralistic, conservatively dressed Christian (Ashleigh Cumming). Perhaps the characters work well on their own but as a group of friends they seem awkward and disjointed. During the group’s guerrilla attack on a local bridge Pang’s dialogue with the group sounds forced and stilted, while Cumming and Lewis’ expressions were blank. However from a 280 page novel to a 106 minute film is it understandable that character development is squeezed into a twenty second shot.
Despite this, director Stuart Beattie perfectly creates the atmosphere and action of war. Think guns, sky-bursting explosions and fast speed car chases. He also captures the beauty of the coastal town terrifically in wide, sweeping landscape shots. However this “blockbuster feel” should be expected from a director who’s impressive CV includes writing the screenplay for the likes of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and ‘Collateral Damage’. But with a budget of only $20 million dollars to create ‘Tomorrow when the War Began’, well, that’s impressive.
Although a sequel perhaps is inevitable, viewers are not left questioning the closing scenes but instead reflect on the significant moral questions within the subtext of the film. Maybe it is time to think about Australia’s national security, time to question the moralities of warfare, time to reflect on the European colonisation (or invasion) in Australia?
Or, maybe its time to plan a camping trip? Yeah.