Given the presence of director James Wan, I am claiming this review of Insidious (2010) as part of my focus on Australian film. Wan and creative partner Leigh Whannell famously had to head abroad in order to get the necessary financing for their film Saw (2004). It has worked well for them too, with both of them carving out nice little careers in America.
I have been enjoying horror films more over the last year or two, after realising that whilst atmospheric and at their best highly tense to watch, they were not going to leave me all that scared, unable to sleep for days like I feared. Whilst it didn’t keep me up for days, Insidious is one of the scarier horror flicks I have seen. The first half is a near perfect Haunted House jaunt that is seriously tense and creepy. It sees a married couple, played by Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson, have their son fall into a coma. Soon after, numerous creepy happenings start taking place. One of the best aspects of this section of the film was that it felt like a pretty realistic presentation of how a couple would react to such an intense situation, as fractures begin to emerge in their relationship. The second half, whilst perhaps not purely as successful as the first, successfully takes the story into some interesting and delightfully creepy places. It also leads to a conclusion of the film that is satisfying, and I for one loved the setup for the sequel at the end.
Watching this film got me thinking how little respect or even attention Wan gets here in Australia. His films get decent releases, but there is not the same focus on him as ‘one of our own’ and how well he is doing in comparison to other actors and directors. Perhaps most of that is due to the fact that he is working in the horror genre which does not get the respect it deserves. Hopefully this will change eventually, because on the evidence of Insidious, Wan is one of our very best directors. The film looks incredible under Wan’s stewardship. Even in the scenes of relative normalcy, Wan is very good at using the camera to create tension in a really disconcerting way. He achieves this generally in a very simplistic, old school manner, by really thinking of the best place to place the camera in each scene. A level of thought that is seemingly not bothered with in so many films. I am not for a second suggesting Wan is the next Hitchcock (he isn’t), but the way he thought out his scenes and took the care to think about the spot that placing his camera would bring the most to each scene, reminded me a lot of the great Brit’s work.
The Aussie flavour to the film leaks over to the cast as well. Rose Byrne, as the female lead, gives the best performance in the film. She is able to give a real sense of her character and the troubles that have plagued her life. Whannell partners up with Angus Sampson to fill a comedic relief slot. I liked the performances of those too, but was not so fond of the characters. Tonally the comedic stylings were just a little too light and not integrated with everything else that was going on. All the performances in Insidious were at the very least decent. Patrick Wilson, whilst in the shadow of his onscreen wife Byrne, is quite good. Lin Shaye as the employer of Whannell and Sampson, does really well to balance her role as part old kook who cannot be trusted, and the only hope for those involved. I also really liked the use of sound in Insidious. One of the major gripes I have with sound in many contemporary horror films is the fact that it is used cheaply to trick people into scares. In Insidious the sound is used to build atmosphere, but more importantly to boost the effect of scares that are already happening on screen.
I’m shamefully behind on catching up with Wan’s films (this is the first I have seen). But Insidious impressed the hell out of me, so I will be getting on to the others. A clever update on the classic haunted house flick that is genuinely scary, I can definitely recommend this film to anyone with the slightest interest in the genre. Or just if you want to see the work of one of the better young directors working today.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
Recently released in Aussie cinemas, and elsewhere around the world on VOD platforms is the helluva fun comedy-horror flick 100 Bloody Acres (2012). Hopefully this film can gain a decent audience around the parts, because it really deserves it. Plus it would be great to see those behind the film, such as the brotherly directorial team of Colin and Cameron Cairnes, get more chances to show off their stuff.
Set in rural Australia, the film follows the Morgan brothers, small business owners with a massive fertiliser contract to fill. Only trouble is that the phenomenal batch of fertilizer they previously supplied happened to contain a secret ingredient… human bodies. An ingredient in short supply. At the beginning of the film, the younger of the siblings Reg finds a body in the wreckage of a car accident. So he snaffles it and heads back to the farm. On his way there, he stumbles across three festival goers, hitchhiking their way to the gig. Reg, eager to impress his big brother, picks them up with a view to turning them into fertiliser. Only, the Morgans aren’t murderers. At least not yet. All the other bodies they included in their product were just found in car crashes.
Back at the Morgan Brothers farm is where the ‘fun’ really starts. It is also where the older brother Lindsay, played by Angus Sampson, makes his first appearance. Sampson will be known to overseas readers from his work in James Wan’s Insidious (2011) and to Aussie readers from a bunch of (predominately comedic) things. Including a bunch of star turns in the Aussie show Thank God You’re Here such as this one:
Whilst the entire cast is good, Sampson is definitely the star here. He plays somewhat against type, being really quite menacing and overbearing and also strikes up a really good chemistry with Damon Herriman who plays his onscreen younger brother. Speaking of Herriman, he provides a well-meaning, if a little dopey foil to Sampson’s unhinged menace. The plot of the film is a clever inversion of the paranoia around hitchhikers in the Aussie outback. All three of the actors who play the hitchhikers are really good, especially so is Anna McGahan as Sophie. She does really well in a role that had it been poorly brought to life could have cruelled the film and made some of the bolder moments in the film feel utterly absurd. Also, this film features by far the best John Jarrett cameo of the past 12 months. Take that Tarantino.
Whilst the mixing of comedy and horror has been done really well by quite a number of films, plenty more have failed miserably in trying to pull it off. Some forget to put any menace or suspense into the horror elements. Whilst others are just miserably unfunny and embarrassing in their attempts to do so. 100 Bloody Acres hits the spot. After a gentle, wry start, the gore picks up quite a lot and whilst the ending is perhaps never in doubt, there is still a decent amount of suspense around exactly how things are going to go down. As for the comedy, it is a definite success, with the laughs ranging from the subtle to the hilarious character of Reg and his interactions with Sophie and ‘Bex’. The other thing aside from humour that the script does really well is that it actually makes you care about the characters. So often in horror/slasher type films the attitude seems to be, we are going to kill them anyway, so why bother making these people interesting? 100 Bloody Acres, while not dwelling over minutely detailed back stories, gives enough interesting tidbits for each character and especially the relationships between them to make you invested in what happens to them. Whether you are cheering for them to end up ground to a bloody fertiliser pulp, or hoping they can avoid that fate altogether. The film also looks really sharp, the cinematography makes the rural settings pop and also picks up every last little bit of grime and gore.
It is really good to see an Aussie comedy-horror film such as 100 Bloody Acres getting a relatively wide release. Even without the comedic elements, this film would be a serviceable little horror flick. But the fact that the humour is well executed and the performances all round hit the spot, make this right up there with my favourite Aussie flicks of the year so far. Go check it out.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny