1985. Directed by Arch Nicholson.
Starring the electrifying Rachel Ward (Against All Odds) and based on the infamous 1972 Faraday Primary School Kidnapping, Fortress is an extremely bold 80's film.
Brought to life by HBO and featuring uncharacteristically violent action sequences and a strong female lead, a film like Fortress had never been made at the time. The premise involves a school teacher and her single room class being kidnapped by a gang of masked men. Soon they escape into the outback and make a fortress in a cavern. The teacher realizes that their pursuers will never give up and that she must teach her wards to kill in order to survive.
The obvious influence of Lords of the Flies cannot be denied. The interesting turn is how an adult is complicit in the children's violent evolution, becoming their tribe leader and surrogate mother simultaneously. Rachel Ward brings charm and gravity to her role that allows this transition to matter, as her inner conflict is unmistakable in almost every scene she appears in.
David Connell's lush cinematography has an almost mystical quality. He manages to capture to vibrant colors of the wilderness in a manner that evokes the fever dream of Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock while also capturing the carnage up close and personal, making the final act almost war like in it's depiction.
Phillip Warner's production design is also of note. The killer's masks (animals and Santa Claus) along with their multiple bone piercings and crudely shaved heads help to carry the base human instincts on display. You can smell the sweat pouring off the desperate bodies of both the hunters and their not so helpless prey.
The film's final scene involves the police questioning the teacher about the events, noting that certain facts don't add up. The children slowly sneak up behind and surround the investigators, protecting their queen and threatening violence without a single word. This was a fantastic narrative choice as it shows the children's final transition from innocent students to hardened warriors, eager for the next battle.
Available only on DVD in sub optimal presentation, this gritty, forgotten film merits attention. The crew took a chance and created a film that was the antithesis of the 80's trend of children confronting evil as heroes. Rather than present the youths as friends coming together to vanquish supernatural monsters, Fortress relays a bloody tale of children forced into adulthood who fight for their survival against very real human monsters.
If you're in the mood for a cult action film with depth, then this is the choice for you.