Twists and turns in The Reckoning

It was the sight of two teenagers by the side of the road that sparked the idea behind John V Soto’s crime thriller The Reckoning.

“Every morning I go for a walk to clear my mind. I say clear my mind but I’m always thinking of stuff,” the writer/director tells IF over the phone from Perth. “One day I was walking down this brand new highway with these lights that stretch off into the distance – at dawn it’s quite beautiful really – when I see this couple, these two teenagers by the side of the road. They both had backpacks on and they were waiting for someone. It got me thinking… ‘I wonder what they’re there for. It’s six in the morning, why are they out so early? Maybe they are on the run or something! Maybe there is some sort of deal going on, some crime.’ And that was the genesis of the concept.”

Shot in and around Perth, The Reckoning follows Robbie Green (Jonathan LaPaglia), a detective whose partner (Luke Hemsworth) is found murdered. A surprise discovery at the crime scene puts him on the trail of two runaway teenagers (Alex Williams and Hanna Mangan Lawrence) who are in the process of making a documentary… and seeking revenge.

Following the plight of the two separate ‘teams’ – LaPaglia and the runaways – proved to be a process more difficult than Soto anticipated.

“The thing with crime thrillers [as a genre] is that they tend to follow the same formula,” he says. “The detective is hunting someone down, and they always show the detective’s point of view – him trying to solve the case and looking at evidence and going to laboratories. That stuff is boring and has been done a million times. I just thought ‘what if we told the story from both points of view? From the teenagers’ point of view and the detective’s point of view and we intercut it together?

“It was a nightmare to implement. A really difficult concept. I ended up writing 14 drafts of the script, and around draft eight it was just really doing my head in. But I persevered and then around draft 10 or 11 the story started to come through.”

The challenge continued on into production, with Soto noting he had not fully anticipated the difficulties of shooting one half of his film (the teenagers’ version) as a narrative documentary.

“It was harder to shoot the documentary footage than it was to shoot the conventional footage,” he says. “I learnt a lot. To capture documentary footage from their point of view, it was very difficult.”

As is often the case, but in particular for this film, the movie began to really come together in the edit, a process for which Soto thanks editor Regg Skwarko. “Balancing the teenagers’ story and the detective’s story was really, really hard.”

Despite the trials and tribulations, it seems to have paid off for Soto in the end, with the film premiering at the British Independent Film Festival on 10 May 2014 where it won Best Director and Best Music (Thomas Rouche).

The Reckoning is also one of six finalists for the CinéfestOZ Film Prize of $100,000; the winner of which will be announced at the Festival this Saturday night.

“I am stoked, I think it’s pretty exciting,” he says of being a finalist. “We’re up against some very good films with much higher budgets. We’re hopeful but we’ll roll with the punches. We’re just grateful and honoured to be part of the festival.”

The Reckoning will have its Australian premiere on Thursday, August 21 at CinéfestOZ before a limited release (five screens in four states) from September 5.