Weir made this plumber-from-hell telemovie directly after Picnic at Hanging Rock. Although feeling somewhat like an extended short film that pushes the limits of credibility when stretched into a longer narrative format (would anyone really put up with a plumber this bad, assuming that a plumber could be this bad) it is for the most part diverting thanks to the performances of Judy Morris as the stay-at-home wife and particularly Ivor Kants as the plumber and Weir’s skill (he also penned the script) in keeping us guessing as to where the story is going or even in a Hitchcock-like way, what kind of film we are watching, thriller, horror or comedy. Less convincing are the scenes with Robert Coleby as the over-preoccupied husband and university dork but at least stylistically they have a naïve charm. As a side interest the film also manifests Weir’s preoccupation with the primitive/civilized opposition and of course, water. – BH
One of the recurrent themes of Peter Weir’s work is the meeting between different cultures – the intrusion of the Aboriginal and the primitive past into the present in The Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave ; the meeting between city cop and Amish in Witness ; Harrison Ford trying to survive in the Amazonian jungle in The Mosquito Coast (1986) – or stories of characters coming to a sudden conceptual awakening about the world around – the schoolboys being transformed by the inspirational figure of Robin Williams’s teacher in Dead Poet’s Society ; Jeff Bridges’ life awakening after surviving a plane crash in Fearless (1993); or Jim Carrey’s growing realization that his entire life has been staged as a reality tv event in The Truman Show . In many of Weir’s early Australian films there is the haunting sense of the primitive past hanging over the modern world as something that is completely alien – in the opening scene here Judy Morris narrates a story about a frenzied New Guinean tribesman entering her tent when she was in Bougainvillea and she having to remain perfectly still, which in turn becomes an echo of the meeting of quite alien (urban) cultures that plays throughout the rest of The Plumber .
The Plumber was apparently based on a real-life incident that happened to friends of Weir’s living in London. In many regards, The Plumber is a film about social boundaries. About how people can be too polite to say no and then before they know it, someone who does not recognize the same limits they do has trodden over the limits of politeness into the intrusive. In some places The Plumber was reviewed as a horror film, but more than anything it feels like the surreal escalations of one of Eugene Ionescu’s absurdist plays. Certainly the character of Ivor Kants’ plumber is not unakin to the locals in Straw Dogs (1971) or David Hess and cohorts in Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972) where in both cases a group of uncouth people invade and turn upside the home and safety of a middle-class family. However Weir’s interest lies in showing the conflict between Judy Morris and Ivor Kants as one of two entirely different cultures. Contrast is made between the two quite opposing worlds – Judy Morris and her husband Robert Coleby and their polite and refined but stultifyingly dull world of academia; against Ivor Kants who is portrayed as easygoing, blokeish and with a sexually attractive charisma.