Now that Baz Luhrmann is in creative hibernation, much of the "Australian expressionist" movement he helped galvanize has all but dropped off the world-cinema radar, which makes Metal Skin look like a freshly dug-up artifact from the Muriel's Wedding/The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert era. Geoffrey Wright's 1994 follow-up to his 1992 cult hit Romper Stomper, Metal Skin stars Aden Young as an awkward, creepy stock-boy with a mania for cars and a crush on his grocery-store co-worker Tara Morice. But Morice, a Satanist, has her evil eyes on Ben Mendelsohn, the handsome gearhead whose affable treatment of Young makes him a de facto best friend. After the trio makes a disastrous trip to the local street races, their tangled relationship gets even knottier, as Mendelsohn discovers the dangers of being nice to the psychotic, and Wright deals with Australia's cinematic legacy of car-crashes and pop-opera.
Metal Skin owes a lot to the malaise-dipped drive-in movies of the '70s, where the action was often secondary to the mood, and it has a lot in common with the Alex Cox-style cult films that made '80s video stores such a haven for high-school outcasts. Then Wright adds his own arthouse sensibility, via a complicated, flash-cut/flash-forward editing scheme that only loses its focus in the middle, during an extended miserablist stretch. As with a lot of '90s Australian films, Metal Skin frequently goes over the top, but Wright has a keen eye for social disparity, from Mendelsohn's ripped-up $150 jeans to Young's scraggly teeth and greasy hair. Everything snaps into place for the movie's climactic car chase, which Wright shoots and cuts with an energy that would make George Miller proud. In a way, Metal Skin is like Mad Max without the apocalypse, but with the same conception of how people can go batty over the feeling that they're lacking something.
Key features: A trunkload of bonuses include an extensive making-of featurette, Wright's more naturalist hourlong 1988 debut film Lover Boy, and commentary tracks by the director on the feature and the short.