In a still image taken during Taunt's production photographer Anne Noble captures Alison Maclean: barefoot, perched on a crate in a wheelbarrow, the young filmmaker levels her camera at the action beyond Noble's frame. Behind her, producer Bridget Ikin grips the handles of the barrow, ready to push. It's a great shot. Not only does it reflect a hearty do-it-yourself attitude, but it marks the beginning of a significant collaboration in New Zealand film: Ikin produced Maclean's highly acclaimed short Kitchen Sink (1989) and her first feature Crush (1992) as well as TV drama Talkback (1987).
Taunt was made during Alison McLean's final year at Elam art school in Auckland. "My concept of the film and my working script changed constantly in the process of shooting it" she explains in an article in journal Alternative Cinema. It was her first short film and she took all the main roles, an experience she describes as "mentally and physically draining."
The taunting of the film's title works on many levels. At its most simple, actor Rangikawhina Chadwick taunts himself as he/she follows him/herself through the streets in a peculiar game of hunter and hunted. In the opening shot a woman emerges from the sea and gets dressed on the beach. The audience is placed as voyeur, but at the end of the sequence there is a fleeting glimpse of someone else watching. Someone, one suspects, with not-so-honourable intentions. While this initial image is troubled with menace, there is plenty of playful taunting. Two chickens are egged on ... a fight looms. When dropped, however, they cluck off happily. Taunting doesn't always pan out as expected.
Broad in its scope, Taunt's narrative is loose. While it gives a decisive nod to the thriller (a chase is sustained for the most part of the film's 17 minutes) it never offers a satisfying 'climax'; it is more of an exploration of how meaning is constructed through images. Maclean writes "I am interested in the idea of the clumsy metaphor - the symbol which represents something, imperfectly."
In a contemporary review in Cantrills Filmnotes Roger Horrocks praised the film as a "remarkable first film", and as "a challenging political film and the expression of a deep feeling for the film medium itself." Dotted with understated intrigue Taunt is a promising opening. It provokes questions about sexuality and identity, and canvasses ideas which thread through Maclean's later work.