For its first Original film, Stan could have opted for a cleanly prescribed, commercial genre piece, as per its Wolf Creek series – clearly pitched at millennials. But the trailer that emerged in late 2017 for The Second promised something unusual: a psychological thriller defined by a love triangle between a novelist, her publisher, and an enigmatic third player – in other words, a smart, character-driven drama for adults, led by three screen veterans, Rachael Blake, Susie Porter, and Vince Colosimo. Instead of young Home and Away graduates, blokey urban crime tales, Jaws plotlines in the Great Barrier Reef, we might have anticipated a nostalgic return to the independent local dramas of the 1990s – a modest, quality, low-budget film, shot in the countryside three hours west of Brisbane. Co-funded by Screen Queensland, The Second was to be shown at festivals, then nationally in cinemas, before finding a home on Stan’s subscription video-on-demand service.
The characters are billed as archetypes. Blake plays The Writer, who is known to craft her books from the material of her life. Her début, a sexually charged, audacious memoir, was followed by a novel about a murdered country boy. Suffering from second novel syndrome and embarking on an affair with her Publisher (Colosimo), she returns to her novelist father’s Queensland estate for the first time since his death to begin writing her next book. The arrival of a charismatic old friend, The Muse (Porter) halts The Writer’s novel-in-progress. The two women are united by a terrible secret, potentially the source of The Writer’s previous story. ‘A work of art is a confession’, we are told; perhaps Blake’s suspicious sophisticate has lodged one in hers.
Metaphors of danger and doom abound: bloody roadkill is dodged, birds squawk, the property’s grand pool is half empty, The Writer’s reflection appears upside-down in various surfaces. The film’s early scenes promise a mansion mystery, sliced with elegantly edited flashbacks to the women’s repressed history, which The Writer feeds into her new manuscript.