The Emu War film review: piss-farting and bloodshed brings the laughs

The Emu War is an Australian comedy that's full of shoddy gags and historical inaccuracies – and you can't help but laugh.
An emu fires a gun in The Emu War. Image: Umbrella Entertainment

The good thing about comedy is, if it makes you laugh then it works. So, a confession: I laughed multiple times during The Emu War. There’s so much going on, it would have been more surprising if I hadn’t; it’s also so (deliberately) shoddy in parts that there’s plenty of opportunity to laugh at it rather than with it.

So does The Emu War hold up as a movie? Well, it’s a little over 70 minutes long (with credits) and is screening in cinemas for one weekend only before it goes to home entertainment, so we’re not exactly talking Dune part 2. That said, it’s definitely an experience that would be improved by seeing it with a like-minded crowd. Hopefully Australian comedy fans will turn out for what is the now extremely-rare experience of seeing local comedy on the big screen.

The so-called Emu War was a real-life attempt to cull the emu population in Western Australia a hundred-odd years ago. Even back then the idea of calling out the military to take care of wildlife was seen as a bit of a joke, and there’s probably a decent film waiting to be made based on re-enacting those actual events. By even the most loose and half-arsed definition, this isn’t it.

Unsubtle, broad, silly – and that’s just the emus

Based on an extremely silly 2018 short, this is instead a wildly historically inaccurate excuse for a lot of piss-farting about loosely held together by a vague desire to make fun of the cliches of war movies. Here Harold Holt is Prime Minister 40 years early and is pissing his pants on live radio. Ned Kelly is an Asian stand-up comedian; Burke & Wills are extremely gay conjoined twins. Most of these cameos end in bloodshed – it is a war movie after all.

The plot largely revolves around twin attempts to take out the Emu Queen, while her hordes of gun toting, grenade-throwing emus slaughter the Australian army pretty much at will. One involves a squad (Aaron Gocs, Dane Simpson) led by Major Meredith (Damian Callinan), who is so blinded by grief over the death of his son – or maybe it’s just stupidity – that he doesn’t realise his own daughter Mary-Sue (Lisa Fineberg) is fighting beside him.

Read: The Emu War interview: Aaron Gocs says ‘I did my own stunts’

The other is an attempt to infiltrate the Emu’s main base using the impression skills of nightclub comedian Gertrude (Lena Moon) so that Australia’s ‘sexiest and horniest man’ (Jonathan Schuster) can root the Emu Queen. Because that is her main weakness for some reason.

Calling the comedy here ‘broad’ is an understatement; when we’re told that bush tucker is everywhere in the bush, the next scene features a microwave under a tree stump. Gore and gross-out gags are scattered liberally throughout, though the shoddy CGI takes the edge off some of them. There are multiple (pixelated) sex scenes, none of which are in any way erotic. Thankfully.

The sketches aren’t exactly subtle either. Comedy accents abound, bodily fluids are a reliable punchline, and outfitting a unit’s members with a suicide cyanide tooth goes about as well as you might expect – though when one team catches someone shagging a sheep it does rapidly develop into a twisted version of a much-loved Australian classic.

War never changes … except for when it does

The Emu War. Image: Umbrella Entertainment
The Emu War. Image: Umbrella Entertainment

What makes all this work – kind of – is a certain level of unpredictability. The jokes are reliably stupid, but there’s stupid and then there’s … well, still pretty stupid, but with a hint of intelligence buried in there somewhere. How many layers are there to a line like, ‘you’re lucky you killed World War One Hitler or I’d have you court marshalled’? Maybe just don’t think about it too much.

The Emu War works best when it parodies the clichés of war movies, from the family that finds itself on opposite sides of the conflict (hang on, isn’t one side emus?) to a voice-over providing ponderous philosophical musings on the nature of war while a character uses a flame thrower on a bunch of cute emu puppets. It’s low hanging fruit, but this takes a good whack at it.

At times this is an epic tale of betrayal, tragedy, and ludicrous historical inaccuracies. At other times, the ghost of someone who’s just been killed starts having sex with his own corpse. ‘Seeing something like that makes you wonder what the point of any of this is,’ says a witness to this very special moment. He speaks for us all.

The Emu War will have a weekend of special event screenings from 21 to 23 June, before being released on Blu-Ray in September 2024.


3.5 out of 5 stars

The Emu War


Damian Callinan, Aaron Gocs, Lisa Fineberg, Dane Simpson, Lena Moon, Ben Russell


Jay Morrisey, John Campbell, Lisa Fineberg

Format: Movie

Country: Australia

Release: 21 June 2024

Anthony Morris is a freelance film and television writer. He’s been a regular contributor to The Big Issue, Empire Magazine, Junkee, Broadsheet, The Wheeler Centre and Forte Magazine, where he’s currently the film editor. Other publications he’s contributed to include Vice, The Vine, Kill Your Darlings (where he was their online film columnist), The Lifted Brow, Urban Walkabout and Spook Magazine. He’s the co-author of hit romantic comedy novel The Hot Guy, and he’s also written some short stories he’d rather you didn’t mention. You can follow him on Twitter @morrbeat and read some of his reviews on the blog It’s Better in the Dark.