The title Coffin Rock immediately conjures up images of a gothic Saturday morning children’s show, like a spooky version of the Electric Company. What the film delivers is a sort of outback Fatal Attraction, though instead of a bunny boiling on the stove, there is a dead baby kangaroo in a bassinet.
Jess Willis (Lisa Chappell) and her husband Rob (Robert Taylor) live in the small outback fishing village of Coffin Rock, surrounded by stunning, barren salt flats. Rob runs a bait shop and is the ultra manly de facto mayor of the town. Everyone wants to be him and to have what he has. Jess and Rob live an idyllic life in a cool house on stilts with a wraparound porch.
There is one small problem, however, Jess, hearing her biological clock ticking down, desperately wants a baby, so much so that she cries every time she sees someone else’s child. They’ve been trying to conceive for over a year with no luck.
Since Jess and Rob are small town royalty, everyone knows all of their business. When the alarm in Jess’ pocket goes off everyone around her knows that she is ovulating and that her and Rob are about to ‘do it’. This attention makes Rob uncomfortable, because what kind of man can’t knock up his wife? He’s so ensnared in his masculinity that his failure in this area is a point of embarrassment. Jess shames him into going to a fertility clinic to have his seed tested, and a chance encounter with Evan (Sam Parsonson), a young Irish drifter, provides the film’s other major problem.
Evan follows them back to Coffin Rock, and, after a drunken fight with Rob, Jess hooks up with him and gets pregnant. After that, things unravel. Not only did she cheat on her husband, but Evan turns out to be a wee bit nuts. He goes from bug-eyed little weirdo, to stalker, to full-blown, yelling-into-a-disconnected-telephone psychotic.
Parsonson is best during the early going, when Evan is creepy and quiet, and you aren’t quite sure how dangerous he is. That’s where he and the film are at their peak. As the story progresses, and the filmmakers try to crank up the tension and suspense, his character straddles the line between crazy—and ridiculous.
Evan’s character arc parallels the entire movie. While not terribly original, Coffin Rock starts out well, with some flip-flopping of gender roles, and a low-key set up that is solid. Act two is full of moments of quiet tension as Jess tries to figure out how to deal with the mess she’s in, as Rob begins to suspect something is wrong, and as Evan grows increasingly unstable.
The third act is where the film goes off the rails. Instead of being intense and sinister, the action feels reigned in and controlled. Writer/director Rupert Glasson flirts with taking the story into darker territory, but never actually makes it.
While Coffin Rock is a decent, “evil stalker” story, and is both well acted and directed, it does nothing to distinguish itself from the pack. It’s worth a watch for fans of other Australian suspense/horror/thrillers, like Wolf Creek (produced by Coffin Rock producer David Lightfoot) and The Horseman, but doesn’t hold up to either of those films.
The DVD, part of IFC Midnight series arrives with an extensive, 30-minute making-of feature that is a mix of interviews, casting tapes, and behind-the-scenes footage. They find a good balance of information and humor, and as a result this the extra is more interesting and entertaining to watch than most. While it isn’t technically a bonus feature, when you watch the film look for Terry Camilleri, better known as Napoleon from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. That right there will brighten up your day.