Review: Bullied (Rock Sugar)

Year: 2021
Runtime: 80 Minutes
Writer/Director: Angela How
Stars: Jacinta Klassen, Lulu Fitz, Saya Minami, Akira Matsumoto, Candice Leask, Giustino Della Vedova, Kirar Mercy

By Bianca Garner

At some point in our lives we have probably experienced first-hand the effects of bullying, whether that’s being the victim ourselves or knowing someone close to us who has been bullied. According to stopbullying.gov, “About 20% of students ages 12-18 experienced bullying nationwide.” That’s quite a large proportion of the young adult population and it’s very disturbing to reflect on how bullying can have such a devastating effect on our lives, affecting our confidence, self-esteem and overall mental well-being.

In “Bullied” (also known as “Rock Sugar”) Angela How explores the complex issues surrounding the effects of bullying and how it can drive people to commit the most heinous of acts. How’s film is a very timely one, as it invokes the empowerment of young women and as at it’s centre an Asian Australian actress, and the film addresses the wider issue of hate towards Asian people which seems to be increasing as of late due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic. How draws on her own experiences and you can tell from watching “Bullied” that it is clearly a deeply personal film.

The film follows 12 year old Charlotte (played by the wonderful Jacinta Klassen) who is being routinely bullied by Brenda (Lulu Fitz). Brenda is able to get away with her tormenting of Charlotte, because she’s regarded as a star pupil. Charlotte does her best to keep her school and home life separate, but her parents (Saya Minami & Akira Matsumoto) suspect something is up. Luckily, Charlotte has a break from the bullying as it’s the Christmas holidays. It’s set to be a good one. However, with the arrival of her parents’ old friends (Candice Leask & Giustino Della Vedova), her parents seem more distracted than ever.

The break from Brenda’s bullying is only short lived. Late at night, a slightly intoxicated Charlotte runs across Brenda and a fight breaks out between them. Charlotte fights back hard, knocking Brenda to the ground, who falls and hits her head, then stops moving completely. Charlotte is suddenly in crisis mode – she must now hide the body, or face the consequences of her actions. She finds an unlikely ally in the form of Mark (Della Vedova) but can he be trusted and does he have an alternative motive for helping her?

“The performances in the film are very noteworthy, especially the younger cast with Klassen, Fitz and Kirar Mercy being superb in their roles.”

There’s a rawness to “Bullied”, it opens with a fight breaking out in a school yard with a brilliant use of sound to create the atmosphere. It feels very real, and we are instantly transplanted into the scene and the world of the film. The language and insults used between the school children is very crude, but if anyone has ever been a kid before, there’s no doubt that it’s very real. The depiction of bullying that takes place isn’t glossy like you would find in your typical Hollywood High School movie. Instead, there’s a bleakness and harshness to the depiction of bullying in the film. However, the character of Brenda is also presented as someone who is complex and multi-layered as well. In fact, none of the characters are simply two-dimensional, they all have depth and layers to them.

Towards the third act, “Bullied” takes a dramatic turn and becomes even darker in terms of it’s tone and subject matter. Some viewers may find this sudden shift a little jarring and it was very unsettling at times to watch this film. However, I must congratulate How for this decision as it really keeps the viewer invested in Charlotte’s story. The performances in the film are very noteworthy, especially the younger cast with Klassen, Fitz and Kirar Mercy (who plays Charlotte’s younger sister) being superb in their roles.

“You can tell from watching “Bullied” that it is clearly a deeply personal film.”

The only real faults with the film are technical one, with the lighting and cinematography not being as sharp as it should be, making it hard to follow at times. The colour grading of the film in muted greys, blues and browns makes the film appear slightly flat and too bleak. There is also the issue of how accessible this film is going to be in terms of its strong language and subject matter, because it might not get seen by a wider audience (especially a younger audience who would benefit from seeing this film). However, aside from these slight issues, “Bullied” is certainly an interesting film which will hopefully start some much needed conversation about the impact of bullying.

“Bullied” is now available to rent and buy, details are here. Photos courtesy of Matter Obscura Films.

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