Red Billabong

Luke Sparke makes his creative debut in Australian monster feature Red Billabong, premiering August 25th. 

Brisbane Weekender’s Jess McMillan sits down with actress Emily Joy to discuss legends, brotherly bonds and how humour can bring monsters and men together.

1. Break it down for us – what is Red Billabong about?

It follows two brothers who are given their grandad’s property after he’s died and they have to decide whether to sell it or to pass it on to the local Aboriginal tribe. 

As they’re trying to decide what to do over that weekend, some friends come over to visit, they meet with a property developer and an Aboriginal elder comes as well – and then spooky things start happening! 

In terms of genre it’s an action thriller; it’s a wild ride because all of these things happen over (the space of) one weekend. It’s a little bit scary, but there’s lots of laughs and it’s just a really great Aussie film.

2. Who is your character and what role does she play in the story?

Kate is one of Tristan’s friends; she comes along with BJ and Anya and Bec. 

She’s a hippie, she’s a sweet naive young girl in a long term relationship, and as things start happening she finds herself in a few messes and tricky situations both emotionally and physically.

3. What was the atmosphere like on set?

It was a great set! It was laid back and fun when it could be, and then everyone got down to work when they had to be because with low budget, Australian films, you get one or two takes. 

If sound and picture is good they’re moving on it so it was really quick and fast. Ben Chisolm, who plays BJ, is hilarious. He plays that character you love to hate.

4. Red Billabong is marketed as a monster movie but there are underlying themes, right?

At the end of the day it’s about family and what it means to be loyal, to be there for someone. 

I think the guys, Nick and Tristan (played by Dan Ewing and Tim Pocock) do such a beautiful job in showing what’s it’s like to be a brother in your adult years. 

The main responsibilities (compared to childhood) are gone so what still keeps you going? The monster is not really the bad guy in the film he’s totally justified in what he’s doing. 

The aboriginal people know how to deal with him, and the rest of us don’t. It’s special to see an Australian story like this being told on screen…because some of the Aboriginal mythology is so deep and so rich and beautiful. 

I want to see more of that now, so hopefully this film will get people talking.

5. This is Luke Sparke’s writing and directorial debut. What kind of a director is he?

You wouldn’t have known it! He’s had so much experience with costuming and he’s been on movie sets his whole life (note: his father, Ian Sparke, is a costume designer and military advisor), he really ran a tight ship. 

He’s this incredible combination of clarity and collaboration; from the beginning he knew exactly what he wanted this picture to look like. With Kate there wasn’t a lot locked down on the script, so she could kind of be anything and I enjoyed bringing these unexpected choices like happiness and a wide-eyed naivety to her. 

Luke encouraged me every step of the way, saying things like “I love what you’re doing let’s do this and this and this other thing.” There was this wonderful balance of him knowing exactly what he wanted while letting you do what you wanted as well.

6. What do you hope audiences will get out of the film?

There are so many elements that round it out as a great night at the cinema. I hope they laugh; there are so many jokes and dialogue exchanges and situations put in there that are actually really funny. 

We have done five advance screenings so far and the laughter is greater than any kind of gasping or screaming, so I really hope people enjoy the lightness and the humour in there. 

We have some wonderful comedic elements that we hope people will enjoy.

7. What sets Red Billabong apart from other creature features?

It’s an adventure film. The monster itself is CGI, the first of its kind, so if you’re going for the monster then that’s really impressive. 

There’s not a lot of monster movies at the moment and Red Billabong is an Australian story that doesn’t take itself too seriously; it’s a lot of fun and you get such a thrill ride. 

Luke is bringing a fresh take to a classic genre and that’s perfect for audiences right now.

Words by Jess McMillan interviewing Emily Joy

Details: Red Billabong premieres August 25th