'Sweet River'.

Justin McMillan’s feature debut Sweet River will premiere as a Netflix Original on Saturday, a “dream come true” for the director.

The psychological thriller follows Hanna (Lisa Kay), who returns to the sleepy town of Billins, nestled deep in the sugar cane fields, where her four-year-old son Joey was abducted by notorious serial killer Simpkins (Jack Ellis), and is now presumed dead.

On hearing the news that Simpkins had died and her son’s DNA was found on his property, the emotionally damaged Hana rents a small farmhouse in the valley near to where Simpkins lived and mounts her own investigation.

Starring alongside Kay and Ellis are Martin Sacks, Genevieve Lemon, Chris Haywood, Rob Carlton, Baroo, Sam Parsonson, Bryan Roberts and Jeremy Waters.

The screenplay, which was written by Marc Furmie (Terminus) and Eddie Baroo (Black Sails, Son Of A Gun), is based on an original story by McMillan.

The film was produced by Ashley McLeod and distributed by FilmInk Presents. It is the third project the distributor has sold to Netflix this year, following on from Romance on the Menu and Hot Mess.

When COVID-19 broke out, McMillan had started to get worried that Sweet River would be “the film that no one saw”, so the Australia and New Zealand deal with streaming giant was a relief.

“When we first started this project, I never saw this as being anything other than a streamer film,” he told IF.

“I wanted it to be available on an internet platform purely because people seem to be so time poor these days that it is difficult to see them viewing content outside of a time that is convenient for them.

“It’s nice to have a Netflix acknowledge with an original tag as well, which is proof they liked it more than an acquisition.”

Director Justin McMillan.

FilmInk Presents co-founder Lou Balletti told IF Sweet River deserved to be seen by a wide audience.

“We came on board Sweet River early in the piece, as we really identified with the film production’s haunting, noir-like beauty,” she said.

“When cinemas were forced to close their doors a few months back we were concerned that the film may fall victim to the closures like so many others, so when Netflix expressed interest in onboarding the production as a Netflix film, we were thrilled.

‘Sweet River’.

“Not only does Netflix have a massive reach, but their viewers seem to really identify with this genre.

“Given our business model is based on maximising audience potential, this was the perfect storm.”

Having been filmed across a small window at the beginning of the year, Sweet River‘s production was not affected by the subsequent lockdown.

McMillan said while he felt fortunate to be able to complete the film “before the world ended”, he was now in “the same boat as everyone else” in regards to navigating the new parameters of filmmaking.

“I’m not sure what the new rules are but I’m guessing there may be a shift towards projects where there is a proven track record, which will impact the calibre and style of films that are being made,” he said.

“I hope we are not witnessing the death of cinema as a craft because that was one of the key reasons why we all got into filmmaking.

“At the same time, it seems as though the easy road for any young filmmaker to have their work seen by more people is through a streaming service.”

McMillan’s previous directorial experience includes the 2017 short film Bouy, which he co-directed with Christopher Nelius, as well as the award-winning 2012 documentary Storm Surfers 3D, narrated by Toni Collette.

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8 Comments

  1. Good morning Mr McMillan,
    I watched Sweet River last night. I always enjoy Australian movies. I would appreciate if you could answer a few questions about the movie which may help clarify a few things. 1. In the cane fields the serial killer son walks from the fields with a shovel. I assume he has just buried a child. His father was with him. So therefore did the father know his son was a child serial killer, as he was there and was supporting him in his actions? 2.Do we assume that the serial killer had been caught and died in gaol? 3. If his father knowingly knew about it why wasn’t he locked up? 4. In the opening scene why was the gentleman driving home from the pub dragged into the canefields and “killed?” Seemed odd as the children did not kill any one else in the movie. 5. Who was the female lead talking to on the phone on occasions, did not seem clear? 6. So the female lead ends up drinking excessively. Was she even smoking ice in that pipe? We see the male actor smoke the pipe. 6. What was the significance of the red lights? Unless I missed something it did not seem clear. 7. Why was the dead boy in her room? Is is requesting help? Could have been developed further. 8. Regarding the man living in the shed who lost a son, his dialogue was not really clear. I enjoyed the movie but I feel it had so much potential. I did try to Google the above answers but had no success. Thanks for reading. Would love some answers. I am a High School Teacher so am always curious and asking questions. All the best. John

    1. I think the answers to your questions are all in the movie. I have just watched it.
      1. I think the Father knew but as he said to Hanna, he was mine and so he stood by while his Son killed
      2. The serial killer hung himself (Or his Father killed him), it was in one of the newspaper montages when Hannah got to the cottage
      3. I am not sure anyone knew that the Father knew his Son was a serial killer
      4. Max killed the guy at the beginning as he was going to harvest the field that the ghosts lived in. max also either killed or tried to kill the Father when he knew that he was going to burn the field
      5. Hannah was speaking with Jules on the phone, her sponsor and friend. It was discussed in the first phone call she had. She was clearly an alcoholic and drug addict and he had been helping her
      6. The red lights were a memorial from the people on the other side of the river to honour the children who died It was told by the Father
      7. Max was in her room hoping to drive her off so the field would not be harvested or burned
      8. The man in the shed was Max’s Father, clearly devastated by the loss of his Son

      The biggest question for me was why the bus driver who saw Simkin kill Max tell a different story to Hannah and why did the police do nothing about it.

  2. The slowest and most boring film made in 2020. Yawnsville from start to finish. Half developed ideas that go nowhere. What a waste of time.

  3. I wouldn’t be recommending to anyone boring, watching waiting for some big climax but it just never came

  4. Why are red lights significant? I know they were used as the memorial but there has to be something more to it. Do red lights mean the people holding them are friendly? In the scene where Hanna sees Violet and Elly hugging nobody has a red light. I know red lights are/were used by the military in low light situations to keep their night vision and help stay undetected, but their use in this movie has baffled me

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