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Jane Campion's sister Anna directing debut.

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LOADED A film review by James Berardinelli Copyright 1996 James Berardinelli RATING (0 TO 10): 6.0 Alternative Scale: **1/2 out of **** UK/New Zealand, 1995 U.S. Release Date: beginning 4/96 (limited) Running Length: 1:45 MPAA Classification: R (Violence, sex, profanity, nudity) Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1

Cast: Oliver Milburn, Catherine McCormack, Danny Cunningham, Biddy Hodson, Nick Patrick, Thandie Newton, Matthew Eggleton Director: Anna Campion Producers: David Hazlett, Caroline Hewitt, Bridget Ikin, and John Maynard Screenplay: Anna Campion Cinematography: Alan Almond Music: Simon Fisher Turner U.S. Distributor: Miramax Films

With its abundance of foreshadowing, flashbacks, and other methods of toying with time and reality, Anna Campion's feature debut, LOADED, enjoys bending the audience's perceptions. Add an atmosphere soaked in dark, ominous overtones, and the result is moody and artistic. Unfortunately, Campion (who is the sister of THE PIANO's Jane) doesn't invest the same effort into creating characters and smoothing out the narrative as she does shaping the tone.

LOADED introduces us to seven college-age characters who travel to an out-of-the-way country house to videotape a no-budget horror flick. Lance (Danny Cunningham), the stern, rather unpleasant director, has delusions of recapturing John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN success. No one else shares his enthusiasm, but they all participate, either by going in front of the camera or staying behind it. Rose (Catherine McCormack, from BRAVEHEART) is the leading lady, who, in real-life, is obsessed about losing her virginity. Her boyfriend, Neil (Oliver Milburn), is perhaps the least stable of the group -- he's in therapy. Also present are Charlotte (Biddy Hodson), a spoiled rich girl who wants more closeness in her relationship with Lance; Zita (Thandie Newton), the only "normal" one; and Giles (Nick Patrick), an intellectual who keeps a scrapbook of serial killers. Half an hour into the movie, Lionel (Matthew Eggleton), a born-again Christian biker, arrives on the scene, but his arrival fuels a misunderstanding with tragic consequences.

The title has multiple meanings. In the first place, it refers to what happens to these seven people when they take sample doses of acid - - they become loaded. More generally, however, it alludes to the concerns that weigh down young men and women coming of age in a time when the previous generation is still groping for answers. This loading can lead to anger that has no effective outlet.

As strong as the core ideas are, however, Campion's presentation is erratic. Her script is poorly-paced. There's a protracted introduction that goes nowhere, and features a number of superficial conversations that purport to address "deep" issues. By the time things start happening, the movie is half over. This storytelling method might have worked if it had yielded a field of rich personalities, but these characters are incomplete -- a few unique, individual traits grafted onto the familiar post-Generation X angst.

The drug sequence is suitably hallucinogenic, although, as in Roger Avary's KILLING ZOE, it goes on for too long. We see the wood grain of a table turn fluid and birds fly out of the wallpaper. Campion effectively uses point-of-view shots during these sequences, but there's a time when becomes tedious. Meanwhile, half the characters are left with nothing to do.

There's a certain artsy pretentiousness about LOADED that the thick atmosphere and cleverly-constructed final act can't completely obscure. All the magical, mystical conversations about spirituality and life don't amount to much -- they come across as forced, and only serve to diminish the characters involved. There are times, mostly during the second half, when LOADED develops into an eerily-compelling piece of film making, but these instances are offset by the many unsuccessful elements. Overall, LOADED is a promising debut, but too uneven to be considered much more than a curiosity.

- James Berardinelli