Note: Here on Shlock to the System, June is TUNE IN JUNE, which is really just an excuse for me to catch up on some TV series I've been meaning to watch for a while. But I will also be watching a number of TV movies, particularly ones from the hey-day of the TV movie, the 70s and 80s.
Director: Arch Nicholson
Starring: Rachel Ward, Marc Aden Gray, Rebecca Rigg, Sean Garlick
Plot: In the Australian countryside, a school teacher and her students are kidnapped by masked men. She and the children fight for their lives and try to escape from their captors.
This Australian made-for-TV movie stars the beautiful Rachel Ward, who was fresh off a series of American big budget movies (SHARKEY'S MACHINE, DEAD MEN DON'T WEAR PLAID, AGAINST ALL ODDS), and a supporting cast made up mostly of children actors.
Teacher and children are the focus of the movie, from the moment they're snatched from their classroom and taken into the Aussie bush for ransom, through their escape from a cave, to another run-in with their captors and climaxing in a final, deadly showdown that sees the kids becoming feral warriors, ala Lord of the Flies, but with bad guys on the receiving end instead of other children.
The fact that this is a made-for-TV movie might suggest that the violence is muted. But remember, this is Australian TV, not American. Whereas American network TV is highly censored, that's not the case in Australia (or here in New Zealand). With a story like this, that's an important difference, because the violence is an important part of proceedings and doesn't have to be kept off-screen.
But in saying that, some of the violence is still quite shocking, being that it involves children. And not children as victims, but children as perpetrators. These kids are pushed over the edge and they fight back in a big way.
The kidnappers are kept faceless for all but a brief moment, and their masks really add to the tension. Like in a more recent move, You're Next, seemingly-friendly masks become instruments of terror. Here it's also animal masks, but the ringleader wears a Santa Claus mask, which is all kinds of twisted.
Ward carries the bulk of the acting load (as well as getting her kit off), but most of the children also do a great job of acting terrified and bewildered and then, towards the end, vengeful. None of the young actors went on to become a Heath Ledger or Naomi Watts, but for most part they've all kept working in TV and movies since.
Fortress is a prime example of a made-for-TV movie done right. At just short of 90 minutes it never feels overly-long. Unencumbered by the censorship issues of an American production, it doesn't pull any punches and weaves an entertaining and suspenseful tale which will have you cheering along as the kids mete out their justice.