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Stars: Mark Hadlow, Jed Brophy, Olivia Hadlow and Doug Brooks.
Writer/Director: Stefen Harris.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Forty years of anger, resentment and bitter memories boil to the surface one fateful evening in a South Island gas station in the nerve-shredding two-hand crime thriller, Blue Moon. A gripping slice of Kiwi-noir that ticks all the boxes that rank truly great independent cinema, the second feature from real-life cop-turned-part-time filmmaker Stefen Harris is a supremely slick, psychologically taut and surprisingly engaging study of two desperate men and the ties that bind them.

Manning the midnight-to-dawn shift at the BP Motueka is Horace (Mark Hadlow), a middle-aged father of six teetering on the brink of financial ruin with long-in-development investment plans straining to stay together. His otherwise quiet night begins to unravel with the arrival of a blue Chevy Impala, carrying bad guy Reuben (Doug Brooks) and close to $500,000 in ill-gotten cash. Reuben’s fate plays into Horace’s plans for monetary redemption, albeit via compromising his own moral code, until leather-clad, shotgun-brandishing Darren (Jed Brophy) comes searching for the loot.

Harris works the first-half of his film with the assured hand of a genre pro, recalling the ‘small-town nobody’ character beats of a James M. Cain pulp-novel and neon-and-shadow classics like The Coen Bros.’ Blood Simple (1981) and Carl Franklin’s One False Move (1993). His blocking of scenes and building of tension in the predominantly single setting of the 24-hour convenience store is terrific.

His narrative invention doubles down on his technical prowess in Act 2, when it is revealed just how ‘small-town’ Motueka is; Horace and Darren have some shared baggage from a past dating back to their high-school days together. The half-million dollar criminal stakes suddenly have a slow-burn emotional intensity, fuelled by a boyhood definition of masculinity that sadly still drives these grown men.

Harris did some of his most instinctive work prior to his cameras rolling with the casting of his two leads and crewing reach. As Horace, aka ‘Toad’, Hadlow brings real-world emotional heft to his genre-thriller everyman; as Darren, aka ‘Ratty’, Brophy is towering tough-guy figure. Behind the scenes on what was reportedly a 6-day/NZ$12,000.00 shoot were the likes of sound engineer Ben Dunker (Inglorious Basterds, 2009), editor Judd Resnick (YellowBrickRoad, 2010), effects techie Dan Hennah (Lord of The Rings trilogy), composer Tane Upjohn-Beatson (collaborator on Harris’ 2009 debut feature, No Petrol No Diesel!) and hometown DOP Ryan O’Rourke. The result is a visually polished finished product, primed for the world market.

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