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Stars: Glenn Maynard, Kyrie Capri, Michelle Myers, Kristen Condon, Aston Elliott, Louise Bremner and Elise Guy.
Writer: Addison Heath.
Director: Stuart Simpson.

Rating: 4/5

Despite a title that suggests a sugary cinematic high, the latest offbeat work from Melbourne-based director Stuart Simpson is instead a bittersweet, disturbing comic take on loneliness, obsession and madness. Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla further establishes Simpson as one of Australia’s most inventive and assured genre filmmakers, his third feature a bracingly original and thoroughly macabre vision that is hard to shake.

An opening montage recalls the giggly first minutes of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, but soon the life of our protagonist, ice-cream vendor Warren Thompson (Glenn Maynard), grows decidedly darker after he backs over his cat. This fateful event sets in motion the final few days of Warren’s already-strained sanity; along for the downward-spiralling ride is local street-thug Rocko (Aston Elliott), his coarse lady Ash (Louise Bremner), troubled postal worker Ruby (Michelle Myers) and, most tellingly, the object of Warren’s obsession, soapie starlet Katey George (Kyrie Capri, a standout).

As Warren, the extraordinary Glenn Maynard creates one of the most memorably sympathetic portraits of repressed rage and social disconnection in local cinema history. Interacting with the denizens of inner-city Melbourne from the window of his confectionery truck by day and retreating into the false world of celebrity adoration by night, Maynard takes Warren deeper into a dangerous, psychotic state via an odd, affectatious comedic portrayal that makes the shattering events of the final reel utterly mesmerising.

First-time feature writer Addison Heath gives Warren a strong, individualistic voice that immediately puts him onside with the viewer. His plight and anguished voice is achingly clear, ensuring his ultimate actions are all the more confronting. There is a foreboding menace that envelopes the film, particularly after the denouement is hinted at, albeit briefly, in the opening frames. Simpson reins in the wild showiness of his last film, the equally engaging small-town creature-feature El Monstro Del Mar (aka Monstro!; 2010), yet still crafts a nightmarish world.

Also providing insight into Warren’s diminished state is his adulation for tough guys movie heroes, an infatuation that leads him to buying a video camera to record his thoughts (a device that has undone many films but that Simpson masters). Of course, there are also some very funny moments, such as a sex-line call that turns into an ‘Agony Aunt’ session.

Although Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla is too much an offbeat Ozploitationer to secure multiplex slots, the time will come when Stuart Simpson and the mainstream mindset find a common ground. He is far too talented a filmmaker to be contained by the underground; one day, these early efforts will be looked back upon in much the same way that fans now regard Peter Jackson’s Brain Dead or George Miller’s Mad Max – a work that defies its low-budget status with superbly crafted visuals and expertly-paced storytelling. 

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