Fortress (1985)

Genres - Drama, Action  |   Sub-Genres - Adventure Drama, Crime Drama  |   Release Date - Nov 24, 1985 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 89 min.  |   Countries - Australia  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Brian J. Dillard

A crackerjack script, a surfeit of ambience, David Connell's terrific on-location cinematography, and the exceptional lead performance of Thorn Birds star Rachel Ward elevate this down-under kidnap drama far above most other mid-'80s made-for-cable fare. Director Arch Nicholson and screenwriter Everett de Roche, who had previously worked together on the cheeky horror flick Razorback, get lots of little details right in this tale of schoolchildren and their teacher held for ransom in the Australian outback. For one thing, the plot remains admirably easy to follow despite hairpin twists and unfamiliar locales. The interaction between the kidnappers -- whose freakish disguises, such as the leader's Father Christmas mask, are truly disturbing -- subtly drives home the pins-and-needles power dynamics that can make or break a crime. The child actors, meanwhile, portray the toddler-to-teenaged students with a nice mixture of uncomfortable petulance and bruised terror. It's Ward, though, who makes the picture, one minute managing bathroom breaks in the criminals' hideout, the next masterminding escape attempts as crafty as they are nail-biting. If the final showdown between the children and their attackers recalls Lord of the Flies in both its savagery and its pointed commentary, well, Fortress raises issues of social breakdown and tribal mentality just as viscerally as that well-worn classic. In short, this is a B-movie scenario with A-list execution.