When I was young punk searching for some meaning and validity in an increasingly crazy world, I used to live by a simple set of rules. In total, there were ten guiding principles that became the mantra that I rigidly clung to, almost all of which certainly caused as many problems for other people as they solved for me. Number four on the list was “Know your enemy” and I spent as much time opposing, fighting and trying to subvert the far right and their twisted, sick ideas of separatism as I possibly could. By the time Romper Stomper arrived in 1992, I’d already spent more than half a decade in the “trenches” battling the type of fascist boneheads that took centre stage in Geoffrey Wright’s film. Yet despite, or maybe because of, my ideological opposition to the repugnant cause that united the group in Romper Stomper, the film was fascinating as it attempted to humanise Hando, Davey, Cackles, Magoo, Gabrielle and company, painting them as broken, tragic figures desperately trying to find something, anything, to believe, and find companionship in. As an anthropological snapshot of a fringe group existing on the extreme periphery of society, it was an incredibly powerful statement that was always destined to end in the same sort of profound and overbearing misery that the protagonists lives were mired in. Happy endings are the stuff of fairy-tales and are never granted to those who find meaning and purpose in hate and Wright made it abundantly clear in his film that those who live by the sword are ultimately destined to die by the sword.
And more than a quarter of a century later, in an age governed by disintegrating hope and an almost complete absence of political morality, Geoffrey Wright has returned to the core ideas of his debut film and spun them out into a new, six part story that places both left and right wing extremism under a microscope and examines how those belief systems dictate, control and eventually destroy the lives of the people who embrace them. Set in Melbourne, Romper Stomper is the tale of Kane, a young man inextricably linked to Hando’s group, who is thrust into the world of Patriot Blue, an ultra-right political group, following a disastrous rally that ends in bloodshed when they clash with the AntiFas, a group whose beliefs lie at the other, extreme, end of the political spectrum. Charting his inevitable rise through the group and their polar opposites attempt to destroy them at every opportunity and told from multiple, intersecting character arcs and sub-plots, Romper Stomper thrives on a myriad of connected threads and swerves, some of which you’ll see coming and some of which hit you from out of nowhere with the force of a well-aimed right hook.
Brutal, unflinching and harsh, Romper Stomper isn’t an easy series to watch, but then I don’t imagine that Geoffrey Wright ever intended it to be. It’s a warts and all portrayal of an underground war bubbling just under the surface of normality that ends up spilling into the “real world” that most of us take for granted. Anchored in place and fuelled by incredible characterisation and performances (namely the returning Dan Wyllie, Jacqueline McKenzie and John Brumpton and scene stealing powerhouse turns by Toby Wallace, Lacy Hulme and Sophie Lowe), Wright’s series steers itself in the direction that you know it will, but hope it won’t as you don’t want to belief that such things are possible but know they are, as it smashes sensibility after sensibility and hurtles toward an explosive finale that leaves it’s audience scattered in its wake. Like I said, it isn’t easy to watch, but it is ultimately rewarding and poses a number of uncomfortable questions and forces it’s viewers to confront the bitter, harsh truth that most of us would rather ignore. That there really are monsters in the world and they look, and for the most part act, just like everyone else. Caveat emptor… Tim Cundle