Orphans and Kingdoms: Film Review
Cast: Colin Moy, Calae Hignett-Morgan, Hanelle Harris, Jesse James Rehu Pickery
Director: Paolo Rotondo
Made on a micro-budget and set entirely in a house on Auckland's Waiheke Island, Shortland Street actor Paolo Rotondo's Orphans and Kingdoms is a subtly damning indictment of social services and how we're failing children.
Essentially, it's the tale of three kids running riot on the island, stealing from dairies. But when the trio breaks in to a house and the owner Jeremy (Colin Moy) comes home, their plan to lie low hits a major speed bump....
Orphans and Kingdoms achieves a lot more than its limited setting would suggest.
While there are moments that come together nicely, there are moments that feel a little strained.
Fortunately, there's a powerhouse performance from Calae Hignett-Morgan as Kenae, the firecracker of a youngster whose bravado embraces the street smarts but whose frailty of a lack of family and a bouncing between foster homes lies just beneath the surface. He's also responsible for the most shocking scene of the film which includes Jeremy and a knife.
In many ways, Rotondo's used him as a vessel to condemn the life of the youngster and the system that has failed him. The message is all the more powerful due to its subtlety.
If Kenae is the fire of the trio, Colin Moy's Jeremy is slightly hamstrung by a vein of sadness and a central mystery that's only solved in the final third act - hampered by a series of flashbacks, Jeremy feels a little underwritten and relies too heavily on the emotional weight it's supposed to be given. (Though a shot that serves as a call back to the opening sequence at the house is given a tighter emotional edge by its framing and execution).
These suffer in comparison because they feel slightly over-wrought; perhaps, less reliance on them would have rendered them more powerful. And certainly in comparison with the subtle dialogue and script shift for Kenae, Rotondo's clearly got an eye for what's required.
Potentially, the story structure of Orphans and Kingdoms and the fact it relies on contrivances while in the house to power the drama, rather than a more natural approach, slightly scupper this commendable film.
But undoubtedly when the film is lighter of touch, Orphans and Kingdoms soars. It's a reminder of what can be done on a budget, but also serves as a reminder of where strengths should be played to.