We never properly meet the four-year-old victim or the nine-year-old perpetrator of the sexual assault around which Disclosure circulates. All we’re offered are glimpses—from a distance, from behind, in one frame of a crossfade, or a family portrait hanging in a hallway, They are conspicuously absent from their narrative. Everything we learn about them is relayed through their parents; it is their biased assessments that we are forced to rely upon. Do we believe Emily Bowman (Matilda Ridgway) when she says that her daughter is traumatized? Or do we believe Bek Chalmers (Geraldine Hakewill) when she says her son is too young and too innocent to know how to sexually assault anyone?
The answer is, of course, something we will never know. Disclosure successfully executes what The Invisible Man attempted to pull off, asking the audience to decide if they believe the victim on word alone. Unlike The Invisible Man, it remains committed to that ambiguity throughout and is a far more powerful narrative for it. But moreover, it doesn’t matter if it happened or not. Like The Slap (the Australian version, not it’s lifeless US remake) and Force Majeure (not its lifeless remake, Downhill) before it, Disclosure is less about the titular incident and more about its fallout. How communities collectively react to a person’s trauma. And how attempts to deny or underplay someone’s pain will only tear the community apart, exposing how threadbare the fabric of polite society is.
That description makes Disclosure sound far more melodramatic than it is (for the most part). While there is plenty of drama—the film is inspired by real events and possesses that true-crime salaciousness—it’s always seeping in at the margins, against the will of its well-mannered, well-intentioned characters.
The plot is comprised of a series of increasingly pointed conversations between the couples. Emily, and her husband Danny (Mark Leonard Winter), want justice for their daughter. Bek, and her husband Joel (Tom Wren), believe that the story is fabricated, the product of a child’s imagination. They want the allegations dropped. Both parties enter looking for an amicable solution, but the situation quickly deteriorates.
Writer-director Michael Bentham is economical in his construction. No official budget has been disclosed, but a cursory amount of research indicates that it is unlikely to be higher than a few thousand dollars. Without access to any high budget tricks, the success of the film hinges almost entirely on the script and performances. Luckily both are up to snuff. Every line of dialogue peel’s back the layers of these flawed people, revealing that under their artifice of middle-class niceness is intergenerational trauma stacked upon intergenerational trauma. Conversations that needed to, but never happen and hurt that has never been expressed. The cast proves more than capable of handling the material, bringing nuance and depth to what are, on paper, fairly broad characters.
Disclosure is at its best when the proceedings are kept subdued. Bentham’s control over the realistic tone is so precise and lived-in that the few dips into stylization feel out of place. Likewise, for the plot, which plays like Hitchcock’s take on Holofcener characters. When the tensions set to a simmer the film is riveting, and every twitchy smile or furrowed brow hints at the inevitable moment that things boil over. So well-crafted is the tension that when things do finally boil over the film becomes melodrama it had artfully avoided being up until that point. There’s a particular moment involved a phone, a pool, and all four cast members that play more like a scene from a 2000s comedy than a modern psychodrama.
If Bentham does not entirely stick the landing with the ending, then it is only because Australian culture has not entirely “stuck the landing” on collective trauma either. This is not meant as an excuse for the film’s final minutes, but it rather an admission that even if the ending doesn’t entirely work, there is a purposiveness to the way it plays out that supersedes its flaws. Disclosure lays out the cycles of hurt that we inflict on ourselves and each other with sober clarity.
We deny the pain of others and when the positions are reversed, our pain is denied in turn. Cycles of silence and outburst, denial and breakdown, are perpetuated because of our pride because we don’t want to be the ones hurt the worst. To heal a wound, you first have to admit you have it, and that first step is always the hardest.