The King is Dead (Australia)

2012 Australia



Young professional couple Max (Dan Wyllie) and Therese (Bojana Novakovic) move into their new suburban cottage and meet their friendly neighbours Otto (Roman Vaculik) and Maria (Michaela Cantwell) – and their cute little daughter Mirabelle (Lily Adey). On the other side, however, the neighbours are a noisy bunch of drug dealers and party animals, using the house where their mate King (Gary Waddell) lives, courtesy of his sick sister now in hospital. Driven mad by the incessant all-night yelling and shrieking and with the police unable to help, Max and Therese take matters into their own hands, devising a scheme that will get King off their back for good. The plan misfires rather badly.


It’s a far cry from Ten Canoes for Rolf de Heer, but his wicked sense of fun is evident as it was in that much acclaimed 2006 film. This black comedy is unpredictable and edgy, starting as a suburban domestic conflict between neighbours, developing into a crime thriller with darkly comic sensibilities. The latter is beautifully captured and propelled by Graham Tardiff’s jazzy score, which cleverly insinuates the lighthearted tone through musical devices.

Dan Wyllie and Bojana Novakovic are excellent as the young couple who discover they’ve got one set of neighbours from hell and try various intelligent, middle class, civilised ways of dealing with them, until these prove useless. As they allow their more basic instincts to come to the fore, de Heer inserts more serious themes, without losing a comic beat.

Gary Waddell is wondrously amusing as the batty old ratbag drug dealer King, delivering a physically eloquent performance, and the supporting cast – mostly glimpsed through the bushes – is solid and suitably revolting with Anthony Hayes and Luke Ford delivering wildlife humans of grotesque fascination. And wait till you see Lani John Tupu and his baseball bat wielding Kiwi boys in the final act.

There is a cute subplot involving neighbourly toddler Mirabelle (Lily Adey) and this has the purpose of highlighting the nastiness of the loud and gross neighbours – and contrasting the two worlds on either side of Max and Therese. An entertaining and tightly wound film, it offers laughs amidst the gasps of recognition about neighbours from hell.


I haven’t had such a good laugh for ages. With an impressive and eclectic library of films like Bad Boy Bubby, Dance Me To My Song, The Tracker and Ten Canoes under his belt, the first surprise is that filmmaker Rolf de Heer has come up with a rip-roaring black comedy. The best part about The King is Dead! is that it starts benignly and slowly sets the scene and establishes the characters in such a way that we have no idea where the story is going to take us. It begins as a light-hearted story about a young married couple with the neighbours from hell and ends as a black comedy worthy of guffaw laughs that additionally delivers a double whammy of a twist. Intelligence is pitted against rat cunning, logic battles the irrational and the evolved bumps into the barbaric. I thoroughly enjoyed this simple, yet complex, film that involves a nerdy science teacher and his tax accountant wife who move next door to a dim-wit drug dealer with thug associates and a noisy lifestyle.

The compelling notes of a double bass lead us step by step down the scale, a muted trumpet sounds and laid back jazz sets the mood as Max (Dan Wyllie) and his wife Therese (Bojana Novakovic) move into what they expect to be a quiet leafy street. It does not take long for them to notice strange goings on next door, with unsavoury characters making noisy entrances and exits. Loud rap music blares in the driveway, drugs are exchanged for cash and the nights become sleepless from the screaming, crashing and yelling next door. Wyllie is effective as Max and Novakovic is delightful as Therese, whose understanding of the criminal mind is a continual source of surprise and amusement. King (Garry Waddell), who lives in the house belonging to his hospitalized, comatose sister is half crazed from ice, thinks Therese, as she observes him and his unsavoury friends that they nickname Shrek (Luke Ford) and Estobar (Anthony Hayes). It’s a super turn by Waddell who creates a great character that is part monster, part wimp. The inclusion of Mirabelle (Lily Adey), the sweet child next door, who takes a shine to Max and Therese, adds an extra element to the film’s texture.

At first, the couple is philosophical, after all they have what they believe are ‘the best’ neighbours on one side and ‘the most interesting’ on the other. But after several robberies and countless sleepless nights and when the police cannot do more than suggest ear plugs, they decide to take matters into their own hands. As a tax accountant, Therese thinks she knows the criminal mind and there are funny scenes as she and Max (over a game of scrabble) plan different strategies to resolve the issues. These range from the common sensical to the far-fetched extreme. This is the start of the crescendo to the film’s climactic heart, when the victims become the perpetrators – with hilarious results. As is to be expected, everything goes wrong and just when we think things could not get any worse, they do.

There’s a reason for everything in the film, even Max’s profession as a science teacher, and as Newton’s third law of motion states, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Every action does have a consequence and, if there’s a moral to the story, it could be that telling the truth is always best. This is a riot of a film that will make you laugh till it hurts.