Director Jonathan Ogilvie takes us on a nostalgic trip back in time with his latest film Head South. As an experienced creative with a background directing music videos for New Zealand record label Flying Nun, Ogilvie dives deep into his own coming-of-age experiences in the late 1970s punk scene.
The story follows teenage everyman Angus, played with humor and heart by Ed Oxenbould, as he navigates family struggles and the murky waters of adolescence in suburban New Zealand. When Angus discovers the raw and rebellious sounds of new wave bands like Public Image Ltd, his world cracks open. Soon he’s fumbling to start his own band, searching for where he belongs, and figuring out how to talk to girls along the way.
While comparisons to classics like Sing Street are inevitable, Head South promises its own offbeat perspective. Its recreation of the era through music, fashion, and a very specific setting aims to capture the feeling of being a bored kid looking for meaning through punk’s DIY ethos. According to early reviews, the film delivers strong doses of angst, intimacy, and nostalgia.
A Teenage Dream…With Some Sour Notes
Angus is just your average teenager in 1970s suburbia—bored, dreaming of girls, and desperate to be cool. But his world gets shaken up when personal drama strikes. First, his mom skips town on a spontaneous two-week “self-discovery” vacation, leaving Angus confused and his Dad, Gordon, drowning sorrows over meatloaf TV dinners.
Searching for escape, Angus soon discovers the raw sounds of punk rock emanating from Middle Earth Records, the hive of counterculture activity in his sleepy hometown. Obsessed with impressing an intimidating blonde named Holly who claims London punk cred, he lies about fronting his own still-imaginary band. But when the town’s resident music guru Fraser catches wind and goads him into his first gig, Angus knows his bluff is on the verge of being called.
Enter the girl-next-door type Kirsten, a talented songwriter who seems wise beyond her years. She agrees to help Angus’ fantasy band become reality and lends some sweet chemistry to his coming-of-age fumbles. Together, they just might be able pull off the big debut performance at the local dive bar. But will Angus come crashing down from his flight of teenage fancy back to the troubled home front?
Beyond the Spiked Hair and Safety Pins
Under its rebellious punk trappings, Head South tackles several resonant coming-of-age themes. It indulges nostalgia for the late 70s as Angus discovers the raw creativity and individuality punk seemingly offers. Yet it also subverts the idea that Angus’s musical awakening provides easy escape or empowerment.
As a bildungsroman, the film traces familiar narrative arcs—teenage experimentation and fumbling firsts, tension between childlike dreams and adult letdowns. But rather than follow the formulaic triumphant gig climax, it swerves into messier emotional territory. The façade of “coolness” so central to Angus’ vision ultimately proves hollow and limiting.
Instead, Head South suggests the angst and aimlessness of adolescence can’t be so easily resolved. Angus must shed his false punk persona, with music and self-expression still offering cathartic release rather than wholesale reinvention. Much like dyeing his hair purple, the scene provides temporary refuge, not answers.
Through it all, Ogilvie deftly recaptures the intense nostalgia for an era when the unattainable girl, consuming lyrics, and donning a leather jacket held the promise of finding oneself. Yet the film avoids overly romanticizing the late 70s, keeping its hopeful heart grounded in the everyday quirks of suburban life.
While comparisons to touchstones like Sing Street ring true, Head South promises a distinct coming-of-age story from down under—unvarnished, uneven, and unfinished in the way adolescence truly feels. Its closing moments reinforce no one emerges from those years entirely unscathed or fully formed.
Nailing the Look and Sound, Missing the Feeling
Head South deserves praise for skillfully capturing the sights and sounds of the late 70s punk movement. From era-appropriate props to an eclectic musical soundtrack, Ogilvie and team transport us back in time. Ed Oxenbould also shines as the sympathetic but misguided teen protagonist.
Yet while surface-level period details hit their mark, the film struggles to fully recapture the explosive energy and reckless abandon of punk. As multiple critics point out, Head South often feels pleasant but tame. One review likens it more to a “seriocomedy with tepid humor” than a truly raucous coming-of-age tale.
This uneven momentum builds to a jarringly abrupt ending that rings emotionally untrue. After following a fairly conventional plot arc, the film takes a sudden tragic turn in its final moments. But without proper setup, this tonal shift leaves viewers unsettled rather than effectively moved. It throws the generally lighthearted adolescent antics off-balance, hinting at deeper themes never fully mined.
Ultimately Head South offers a nostalgic trip down memory lane for those who lived the era. Yet it falls short of translating the dangerous thrill of punk rebellion to modern audiences. The film’s execution can’t seem to break through the museum glass protecting its late 70s setting. Its dynamic visual and audio creativity deserve applause, but we leave the theater feeling Ogilvie’s intimate passion more than punk rock’s earth-shaking impact.
Capturing the Setting But Not The Spirit
A common thread in reviews, both positive and negative, is the notion that Head South excels more at recreating the aesthetic look and feel of the late 1970s punk era rather than embodying its disruptive energy and creative spirit.
Ogilvie takes great pains to transport the audience back in time through set decoration, costumes, music cues, and visual techniques intended to mimic the DIY production values of the time. This fastidious attention to period detail manages to vividly conjure up the setting of suburban New Zealand in 1979.
However, multiple critics point out the film struggles to break through the museum glass of meticulous historical accuracy to fully capture the raw, unpredictable vitality of the pioneering punk bands and fans it depicts. The characters, story beats, and lighthearted tone tend to keep the viewer securely anchored in the domain of pleasant seriocomedy rather than the risky edge those early punk artists embraced.
So while the film takes audiences on an enjoyable audiovisual tour of the late 70s, it fails to rupture expectations or convention quite like the rule-breaking approach of the unconventional artists it pays homage to. Head South is ultimately more of a controlled period reenactment than a truly unfiltered punk experience.
A Nostalgic Capsule of Teenage Dreams and Growing Pains
While falling short as a breakout crowd-pleaser, Head South offers an affectionate portal back to the late 1970s for those who lived through the dawn of punk. Its flaws come from staying overly faithful to Ogilvie’s own coming-of-age story rather than molding the material into a fully engaging arc. Yet it movingly captures the intensities of adolescent self-doubt and the catharsis found through music.
Where the film truly shines is in capturing small sensory details that bottle the feelings of youth searching for belonging amidst family turmoil and social pressures. For Gen X teens, it will hit comfortingly close to home. And for younger generations, it serves as a time capsule to an era when scrappy suburban kids sought escape through the rebellious sounds of bands raging against the establishment machine.
Head South won’t rank with the great coming-of-age films, but it earns points for affectionately warts-and-all recreation of the late 70s. Diehard fans of either Ogilvie or the musical era are most likely to appreciate this personal ode that foregoes mass appeal to teleport back to an important time and place with emotional authenticity.
While imperfect, Head South transports audiences back to late 1970s New Zealand through strong performances and technical flair capturing the punk ethos. Yet without matching that aesthetic dynamism in its narrative execution, the film feels over-faithful to the director’s personal coming-of-age story rather than fully immersing us in the rebellious spirit it reminisces about. Still, music and cinema fans after a pleasant nostalgia trip may find enough here to overshadow flaws.
- Strong lead performance by Ed Oxenbould
- Effectively captures late 1970s aesthetic through music, style, production design
- Sweet moments of humor and adolescent awkwardness
- Touching exploration of that era's youth culture and alienation
- Uneven plot pacing and generic coming-of-age story beats
- Inability to fully capture raw punk spirit
- Abrupt tonal shift at conclusion lacks sufficient build-up
- May appeal mostly to niche audience already familiar with the era