This nifty little Australian horror/thriller hybrid is deceptively simple. A school teacher and her classroom full of children are kidnapped by a group of brutal masked men and left to fend for themselves in a cave while they’re kidnappers are away. The group easily manages to sneak out only to find themselves once again at their kidnapper’s mercy. A few twists and turns later, the group is all alone, waiting for the masked men to come and find them, only this time they’re ready to put up a fight. Not too difficult a premise to swallow but the narrative is enriched by a few bizarre transgressions, a few moments of cringe-worthy violence and a believable arc that sees the school children go from frightened little kids to ruthless little monsters.
My dislike for children is probably already well known so there is no need to go over that again, but I would be remiss to say that for the first half of FORTRESS I really just wanted most of these kids dead, especially the little ones. They whine and cry, blow an escape attempt because they can’t keep their damned mouths shut and make life difficult for their teacher (played by the absolutely lovely Rachel Ward). But that’s how kids are. They bitch and moan and cry, so I can’t fault the film for presenting children as children are. The older members of the group of kids are in their early teenage years are presented as much cooler heads. There is an element of sexual tension to the film with one of the boys displaying genuine romantic feelings towards his teacher (all the more obvious when Ward has to strip down to her underwear in front of him) and the oldest girl, maturing fast for her age, endures wandering eyes from her fellow classmates and, naturally, the kidnappers. None of it is explicit, none of it is called to the forefront, but it’s there in little moments and that adds a bit more of a well-rounded bit of characterization to the film.
On reflection, FORTRESS may seem slight. It moves with a single-minded purpose to its conclusion with little in the way of subplots or extraneous action. There is a brief stopover while the film changes gears involving the slaughter of an elderly couple but other than that the story moves forward with a brisk pace. I for one appreciated how quickly the film unfolded and how assured the film felt. It is expertly calibrated and put together with a real economy of action/characterization that allows for the viewer to simply become immersed in it without having to juggle multiple story lines, assorted characters and the such. FORTRESS might not make much of an impact on the more jaded genre film viewer, but those who find a comfortable spot to sit in its shade will definitely fall under its spell. A great little film.