Slow-motion footage of car wrecks is accompanied by a drawling Australian narrator, who advises us that cars - by their very nature of being built to travel on random routes - are destined to crash.

This cheery opening gambit is followed by an onscreen caption: "Fact: One crash test dummy will die."

And so begins CRASH TEST, writer-director Sam Voutas' sombre feature debut.

After the thought-provoking intro, CRASH TEST begins proper with bald-headed Sala (Voutas) baking in the outback sun, thumbing outstretched as he waits on the lonely open road for a car to pass by.

He's distracted by a can rolling across the asphalt, and then the persistent horn of a car behind him. Sala turns to face the car in a knowing Spaghetti Western-style stand-off, remaining motionless as the car roars into life and races towards him.

Having knocked Sala down and splattered his windscreen with his blood, the brutish Limbo Jack (Steve Van Spall) rings the heavily bandaged Valeriy (Melanie Ansley) to tell her he's caught up with Sala. She is delighted and tells him to bring the body to her - only to hear Jack being attacked by a not-so-dead-after-all Sala. A struggle between the two men ensues, with Sala eventually overpowering the bearded hulk and stealing his car ... and wig.

Sala races to his girlfriend Abby's house (she's also played by Ansley), hammering on the door, screaming for her to let her in. When she refuses to - he left her a year ago, after all - Sala explains he's spent the last year as a hostage.

And so, an onscreen caption takes us to "one year earlier", where we see Sala and Abby living happily together, celebrating the completion of his book "Crash Test Chronicles".

Things start to go awry for Sala when he's invited to an interview with the head of huge motor safety firm Motorkore to discuss the nature of his unpublished book. The company head (who only appears via a portable TV screen, in what may be a nod to Cronenberg's VIDEODROME) tells Sala that his book could damage his company's business, and therefore he is prepared to buy it for a good price. Sala refuses, wanting instead for his book to be published and expose a rumour that Motorkore used corpses as crash test dummies in the 1920s.

The company head is decidedly miffed by Sala's non-co-operation and orders his kidnap.

Once imprisoned in Motorkore's faceless white factory walls, Sala's head is shaven and his goatee-beard is hacked off. He's kitted in a factory overall and given a badge with his new name on it: 171096.

Valeriy introduces herself to Sala as a Motorkore employee, advising that he will now become a crash test dummy for the purposes of Motorkore's road safety tests. He's taken out to a huge brickwall with a mattress leant against it, and told to run into it at full force.

This is just a dress rehearsal for some serious car crashes that the firm has in mind for Sala. But Sala still harbors hopes of making an escape ...

CRASH TEST has a relatively original premise and Voutas' screenplay draws mileage from it by exploiting various avenues (although some of the stats and leanings towards the emotional impact of being a crash vicitm are at times heavy-handed). By and large, the script is intelligent and unpredictable, while pacy enough to satisfy those wanting action too.

Performances are strong, with Ansley standing out in her dual roles. Voutas makes for an amiable, confused hero - while Van Spall plays the mute bad guy with enjoyable gusto.

Photographically the film looks lovely, making good use of it's black and white visuals and the Australian scenery. And it's all set to some thumping rock music too - which, combined with all of the above, makes CRASH TEST a film that's easy to get into and stick with.

It peters out towards the end with an unsatisfying finale, but that aside I recommend CRASH TEST for anyone with an interest in low budget Sci-Fi with more ideas than FX.

Sub Rosa give the film a solid, sharp non-anamorphic 1.78:1 presentation. The 2.0 audio is similarly clear and crisp. There's the occasional cracking on the soundtrack, but I think this is intentional.

The film has 12 chapters.

For such an intriguing little film, the extras are comparatively lacklustre for a Sub Rosa release.

We get the original black-and-white short film from 1999 that CRASH TEST was based upon (it's also called CRASH TEST). The short looks pretty rough and grainy, but benefits from this in an odd way. It's only 5 minutes long though.

Then we get a 33 minute film called HOW WAS YOUR DAY? Starring Jason Christ and Emily Haack as a couple who break up due to a lack of communication - their story is told from both conflicting angles - this is a mildly diverting watch, but totally irrelevent to the main feature.

Finally, there's trailers for several other Sub Rosa features, including the likes of STRAWBERRY ESTATES, KILLERS BY NATURE and BUZZSAW.

Aside from a paragraph by Voutas on the inner sleeve of the packaging, there is a criminal lack of information related to CRASH TEST. A commentary track would have been great, but ... alas, no.

A thoroughly entertaining, interesting film by a director who one day - with a decent budget - could go on to produce something genuinely outstanding. Sub Rosa have given the film a solid presentation on disc ... but more feature-related extras would have been nice.

Review by Stu Willis

Released by Sub Rosa
Region 1 NTSC
Not Rated
Extras : see main review