No film has ever dominated my twitter feed quite like Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) these last couple of weeks. Recognising that the series was a large gap in my personal filmography, I jumped back and took a look at the earlier films before checking out the new one, starting with Mad Max (1979).
The first film is perhaps less well known that Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), especially in the States, but it’s a film that I much prefer and that I think has aged a lot better. There is a unique balance to proceedings, which are quite lightly plotted. Early there is constant action and kinetic energy being splashed all over the screen. Then the film settles, building out the world a little and focusing on the family elements of the plot, before kicking into overdrive for a really quite short final revenge sequence where Max turns very much from content, into mad. Up until that final part of the film, the main thematic propulsion simply comes from a dude struggling with what his job says about him as a person. A struggle many of us face and which helps to make this the most relatable film in the series. Indeed there is a universality to most of what is happening. The audience is happy to see Max bring his violent revenge to bear at the end of the film, due to the intimate understanding of what has been taken away from him by the villains of the film. Especially as it is brought about by one of the most coldly violent murders you will see on screen.
The word building in the film is simultaneously sparse and effective. Miller never feels bothered to overly flesh out the world with intricate levels of detail. As someone who grew up in rural Australia, the sparse, empty roads and fields were incredibly familiar. Thought the focus is not on effects or hi-tech futurism, the vision it builds is still pretty nightmarish. Some small flourishes – the search for fuel, a seemingly tiny population and ‘Prohibited Area’ signs – go a long way. This is a near future that is lawless, seemingly reigned over only by incoherence. Another aspect of this lawlessness is built up in the film through the invocation of the Western genre, which was so heavily focused on film’s most iconic ‘wild’ setting. The way people dismount their motorcycles, a focus on boots and jackets and the adjusting and removal of helmets are all lingered on, recalling Eastwood or similar riding in on a noble steed. These flourishes also feed in to the writing of the film which focuses heavily on building the psychology of the characters. On one level there are goodies and baddies, but dig a little deeper and what characterises a villain and what characterises a hero becomes far murkier. The performances support this, especially from Hugh Keays-Byrne as Toecutter, a character who has an aura and seeping malevolence which inspires his followers. Characteristics that Immortan Joe, played by the same actor in the franchise’s most recent, also has tons of. There is something towering, discomforting and ominous about both of those turns by Keays-Byrne. The baby faced Mel Gibson is also excellent, especially when turning and gaining his revenge. The actions sharply conflicting with the innocent face and family man of the film further detailing the psychological trauma that has been wrought upon him. And it’s always great to see Steve Bisley on screen as well.
After seeing this film and Fury Road, it is fair to say that no one does vehicular mayhem quite like George Miller. Everything is so real feeling in this film and you feel the impact of every collision. It makes you wonder how on earth Miller got this film made really. The stunt work in the film is heart-stoppingly thrilling as cars and motorbikes converge violently over and over. Coupled with that is the camerawork, simply showing the action safe in the knowledge that the crowd will lap up every collision and explosion. The camera is also used to great effect to create tension. The sequence running from a forest, to a beach and then back to the forest is the tensest in the whole film, with nary a car in sight. Miller achieves this with slight movement of the camera, flitting in and out of the trees and masterfully controlling what is in the frame.
Verdict: Those taking a look at Mad Max for the first time, expecting the same level of freneticism Mad Max Fury Road delivered, may well be a little befuddled by what they find. But whilst it is different, it is no less unique and is a film that should be sought out by any action or sci-fi aficionados who have somehow never seen it til now. Pint of Kilkenny
Related beermovie.net articles for you to check out: The Great Escape and Quick Review: The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
Low budget Aussie horror-comedy Wyrmwood (2014) was one of my top 10 anticipated films of the year. Looking to circumvent recent disastrous box-office efforts by Australian films, those behind this flick decided to try something a little different. A one night only (conveniently Friday the 13th) big screen release, to be followed by a presumably a big home formats push.
Unfortunately I forgot to take a notepad to the screening tonight, so this will not be one of my usual rambling epics. But I did want to share some thoughts on the film. Firstly, I do love the fact that they tried something a little different in terms of release. It appears to have worked as well. This was a very busy Friday night in Canberra – it was the Brumbies first game of the season and the booze and food laden Multicultural Fest is a massive deal. However, the screening I attended was totally sold out, indicating there is a strong buzz around the film.
The crowd that was there were totally involved in the film as well. They were really ready to laugh and the film got a great reception. Dare I say, most people liked it a little more than I did. As with essentially all low-budget horror films, the script does have its issues. There are occasional moments where it goes interesting places and builds up some mythology – the biblical explanation for the name is one that particularly sticks in my mind. But there is also plenty of poor dialogue that fails to drive the story as it should. I think that films such as this can get by with an average script, if they have a strong story. But unfortunately, the arc of this film is pretty weak. It’s a pretty stock standard horror-comedy narrative, which gets bogged down by a subplot that leaves one of the most promising characters sidelined for a lot of the film. If only there was more of the mythology that is occasionally hinted at, because it could have really set the film apart from the norm.
All of the performers in the film are clearly having a good time here and it is hard not to go along with their boisterous turns. In fact, strangely for a film at this budget level, I don’t think I could really fault any of the performances. Keith Agius, Bianca Bradey and Leon Burchill in particular excel. Perhaps the greatest achievement of the film is the production values. There is a great amount of craftsmanship on display. You never really notice the budget at all and the filmmakers obviously targeted where they wanted to use their funds well. The brilliant looking exploding heads and zombie make-up help to immerse you in the film in a way that the story unfortunately doesn’t.
Verdict: In the end, Wyrmwood is a film to be admired rather than outright loved (well for me at least). The filmmakers have done an incredible job to produce this and get it to such a wide audience with the budget they had available to them. Unfortunately the weak story prevents the film from reaching the cult classic heights I had so hoped for. Schooner of Carlton Draught
The Infinite Man (2014) is an Australian sci-fi comedy which did not make much of a dent at the local box office. It has however created a reasonable amount of buzz amongst those who managed to catch it, even popping up on some best of 2014 lists over the past couple of weeks.
Immediately the film makes no bones about the fact that it is a love story first and foremost. We meet Dean and Lana, celebrating an anniversary at an outback motel. Or tyring to anyway. Dean is a great character, a lovesick, very nerdy and slightly neurotic scientist. He is desperately trying to have the perfect weekend with the love of his life, meticulously setting out a weekend of traditional Dutch music, massage, tantric sex and a whole lot more. The focus from this man, whose work is bound up in the logic of the universe that surrounds him, is very much on the meticulous control of variables rather than the spontaneous moments that arise with the one you love. This attribute, perhaps the strongest of his character, leads to an inevitable breakdown in the success of the anniversary weekend and sends the film spiralling down a time travel road, as Dean repeatedly attempts to do-over the weekend more successfully.
Occasionally time travel films would be better without the time travel. And that’s kind of how I feel about this film. I was totally onboard with the quirky love story vibe of this film. But once the time travelling starts, it just lost me a bit. It’s by no means bad, but it just slows the film down a lot in a storytelling sense. The time travel elements allow the themes of the film – living in the moment, changing the past, love, and the ability to let go – to be examined in greater depth. Unfortunately for me though, this enhanced thematic depth came at the expense of narrative enjoyment. Whilst initially the approach to the time travel captured my interest, with different versions of all the characters trying to avoid running into each other, it quickly became too slow, bogged down away from the emotional heart that had been so well established.
There are only three characters in the film and they are all good, especially the lead two. Alex Dimitriades is excellent as always as Terry, Lana’s ex-boyfriend who is basically a caricature to drive the plot along. Given the skill that Dimitriades possesses as a comedic actor though, his character does not feel tacked on or annoying as a narrative device. Dean, played by Josh McConville, is the most interesting of the characters. He is adeptly set up early on as a man whose (considerable) intelligence seeps into and generally overwhelms every aspect of his life. This is the constant battle for Dean throughout the entire film. Despite being relatively young, Lana (Hannah Marshall) seems weary with the world and especially the men who surround her. She is sick of Dean’s lack of spontaneity and the oppressiveness of trying to be with someone so rooted in the scientific. Despite the small cast, the film never seems empty, helped along by the fact the material is filmed with a light tough and all three of the actors are really good with what they have.
You can see that this was a low-budget film, but director Hugh Sullivan and his crew have done an excellent job of utilising what was available to them. The isolated location gives it a distinctively Australian flavour, even if perhaps initially it does not feel like it suits the story. But the story grows into the location and by the end of the film it feels a more natural fit. Once the characters are established it effectively functions as a blank slate for the material and actors to weave their magic on. The sparseness is in fact a benefit, as it focuses the viewer’s attention in on the strengths of the film that are not dictated by budget. Script wise, The Infinite Man is a strange beast. It is a truly funny script, but one without any real jokes in it. Rather the observational style, especially around the frustrations and challenges of relationships, will have you chuckling along. The editing is particularly sharp in the film, hinting at the time travel aspects in the first act and then bringing them to life later on.
Verdict: In the end, The Infinite Man is one of those films that I wanted to like more than I did. As a quirky rom-com with a scientist lead character the type of which is rare in this kind of film, there is definitely plenty to enjoy. It’s just that the time travel that dominates the narrative slows the narrative flow of the film more than I would have liked. Stubby of Reschs
Related beermovie.net articles for you to check out: Predestination and Quick Review: The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
Razorback (1984) is a humble Aussie B-movie that had the audacity and good marketing sense to deem itself ‘Jaws on land’. Does it live up to that lofty goal? Hell no. Is it daft fun when accompanied by a bunch of beers? Hell yes.
For those who don’t know, razorbacks are actually a phenomenon and major problem in rural Australia. Feral pigs run rampant, growing to massive size, with very little in the way of natural predators. Pig hunting is a favoured past time amongst a certain type of person in Australia who often don’t actually look and sound all that different to the hideously narrow minded, racist hunters in this film. Razorback captures some of the barbarism inherent in bloodlust and the almost sexual thrill that some hunters get from their slaughter. The film is a little slapdash, with everything just thrown on the canvas to see what works. There is an armoured car, which I believe was a requirement of any Aussie genre film of this vintage. There are a few jaunts into absurdist territory which really does not work. There are a couple of American interlopers, one of them a reporter, and these outsiders function as a way to highlight just how alien a place the Australian outback really is. And the deaths are well shot, with the characters who go and the order that occurs is at least a touch surprising.
There is something of the delightful silliness and simplicity of Roger Corman at his best in Razorback. It’s bad, but endearingly so. Even when crafting a pretty accurate, if stylised and (only slightly) exaggerated portrait of life in remote Australia, the film never allows that to get in the way of the fact that there is an enormous, murderous pig on the rampage. Nor should it. The setting is a real point of difference, with the expanses of sun drenched outback a stark change-up to the horror setting norm of dank, dark, enclosed spaces and the filmmakers do toy with that. Though the film is nothing like Jaws (1975) on basically every level, it does nail one bit. The pig used is so monumentally terrible and fake looking that the film does everything it can to hide it away. Which leads to the good – funky silhouettes and PPOV (pig point of view) shots, and the bad – at times the film could use a little more giant murderous pig. Thematically, there is a little to discuss, even thought the film functions mainly as a blast of stupid fun. Feral pigs are often used as a metaphor for environmental degradation in Australia. They are not native and do untold damage to the landscape, just as mining, agriculture and numerous other feral species do. As for the script, it’s awesome. And by awesome I mean terrible. Razorbacks supposedly not having a nervous system plays a major role in the plot and the quote “took his grandson, his daughter and his pride… that boar destroyed his life” features shows its qualities.
Verdict: If you are a fan of what the gents of The Flophouse call ‘good bad’ movies, then Razorback has what you need. It falls comically short of fulfilling its Jaws on land premise. But it is comical and loads of fun, with the perfect mix of competence and incompetence. First class 80s schlock. Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
Just a heads up before I jump headlong into my review of Beckoning the Butcher (2013), I noticed the film is playing in the Viewster Film Fest that is currently going on. So if anything I write here piques your interest or you just can’t get enough of found footage horror flicks, check it out here.
Beckoning the Butcher is an Australian found footage film, impressively made on what looks to be a miniscule budget by director Dale Trott. Even after my not too enjoyable last found footage experience which was Creep (2014) at MIFF a little while back, I was pretty keen for this. The 10:30pm on a Friday night scheduling seemed perfect for a little low budget high concept horror action and I conveniently had a beer in hand.
In terms of setup, you will have seen a vast majority of what Beckoning the Butcher does a few times before. There is the obligatory thank you to the families of those who had gone missing and some after the fact ‘interviews’ delivered direct to the camera which were very reminiscent of another Aussie found footage film The Tunnel (2011). Actually that was a film brought to mind quite regularly whilst watching this one. There were however some nice original touches in the film’s construction. The fact that the main character Chris is a Youtube star, thanks to his videos of undertaking various supernatural rituals, is an interesting way to explain away the presence of the cameras. And an ominous reference to the Deep Web sparked interest early on, but unfortunately is not really taken anywhere. The setting was also something a little different. Sure it was isolated and rural, but that is actually a relatively unique setting I think. Aussie farmland is not as done to death as house in the American woods. Also generally impressive were the performances from the younger cast members. All unknowns to me, they grounded the film well in its sillier moments and managed to set up believable interactions between one another. Some of the cast members in the interview segments were a little more stilted unfortunately. It was hard to pick if that was an issue with the performance, or the way in which those sequences were directed. But the result was that the suspernatural found footage horror elements actually felt more realistic than the ‘interviews’.
At times the low budget was a bit of a distraction, though for the most part on that front, the filmmakers have done impressively. It is just frustrating then that every so often something would take you out of the world of the film. One example is the logos on various objects (a package of salt for example) being fuzzed out. It sounds silly sure, but every time that happened, I started thinking about why the filmmakers had needed to do that, was there some disagreement with the folk at Saxa. And if I’m thinking about corporate interactions with large salt companies, I am not thinking about where the film is taking me. The major flaw and the one that means the film really fails in its aims, is the total lack of frights that it delivers. I was expecting to be scared out of my brain, because for all its flaws, found-footage as a filming style does allow for jump scares a plenty. Here though, the tension was never built up enough for the big terrifying moments to actually hit home for either me, or the audience that I watched the film with.
Verdict: Overall, despite definitely respecting the effort made and the achievement on a really low budget, not much about Beckoning the Butcher really works. The lack of real scares is pretty terminal for a film so reliant on frightening its audience to succeed. If you are on the lookout for some Aussie found footage goodness, you are probably better off turning your sights back a couple of years and picking up a copy of The Tunnel. Schooner of Carlton Draught
Don’t forget to get commenting away to go in the draw for a couple of sweet Madman DVDs. Details here.
The opening night film of the recent Melbourne International Film festival was the Spierig Brothers’ Predestination (2014). For such a massive festival, it is great to see a home grown genre flick getting the honour of being the first film up. Whilst it is not quite perfect, you can definitely see why the organisers thought that this film would be a great conversation starter to get things going.
Hybrid genre pictures are growing in popularity recently and the early stages of Predestination, combining sci-fi and crime elements, is a really good example of the form. There is an arch voiceover, time travel and a sense of classical crime fiction with the lone cop, gradually edging closer to the crime as he works the clues and chases down leads. It takes place (for the most part) in a 70s New York that feels more like the 50s with a hardboiled feel dripping from the dialogue. Then all of a sudden there is a shift in the film as the action slows and a bar conversation flashback takes up a really lengthy period of time. I would say a good half an hour which is a lot in a taut film like this one. Initially I was a little perturbed by this. I was enjoying the sci-fi crime jazz so much and I didn’t sign up for a drama, even though it is pretty compelling. But like many bold choices, I think it just takes a little bit of time to acclimatise to the unexpected shift. Indeed I think the decision makes the film a stronger one and if not that, it definitely makes it a more interesting and compelling one. Even so, whilst watching the film I was missing the time travel fantasticalness that I thought I was buying a ticket for. Don’t fret though because it comes thick and fast in the last section of the film. I am not going to pretend I entirely understood of the plot turns and ramifications. I think it would be really tough for anyone to pick them up first time through. But I actually don’t see it as a bad thing to be challenged in that way and I would happily watch the film again soon to try and pick up what I missed.
The big name on the cast list, returning for his second film with the brother directorial team after Daybreakers (2009) is Ethan Hawke. Over the past five years or so, Hawke has had a filmography probably as interesting as anyone’s and he does a great job here as the main temporal agent who carries a fair bit of the film. Hawke is great, but the real star is Australian actress Sarah Snook who carries probably an equal overall load but who definitely does more of the emotional lifting. I have seen Snook in a couple of things before, but she is totally transformative here. She shows exceptional range encompassing sassy all the way through to totally and utterly vulnerable. Part of that is due to the nature of the character that Snook plays which I can’t really go into without entering spoiler territory. But you would have to think that this performance will surely break Snook’s career into much bigger things. Well if there is any justice it will. Not only have the Spierig Brothers managed to draw quality performances out of their two leads, they have also delivered a film with very high production values. The film looks so slick and it is great to see an Australian film being set in New York that succeeds in making you feel like you are in that place.
Predestination has the kind of story that will have you thinking you know where it is taking you, before it flips on you. Without feeling cheap too which is nice. With two really wonderful central performances from Snook and Hawke, plenty for you to think about and the chance to see two young genre directors continue to hone their craft, this is one you should definitely support on the big screen if at all possible.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
Australian horror film The Babadook (2014) has been gaining a fair bit of attention lately. From winning acclaim at international film festivals to securing a reasonable theatrical release in its home country, which is becoming increasingly rare, this is a film that has people talking. After a slow start, I think it is fair to say that writer director Jennifer Kent’s first feature film deserves absolutely everything that is said about it (assuming they are good that is).
The film centres on a single mother Amelia, played by Essie Davis, and her son Samuel, played by Noah Wiseman. Samuel’s father died in a car accident as Amelia was being driven to the hospital to give birth to him. Things are already going pretty rubbish for the family when the boy finds a book titled “The Babadook” on the shelf to read before bed. The book is amazing by the way and if they bought it out, I would snap up a copy for a prized piece of merch. Already scared of monsters, the starkly terrifying book reduces Samuel to a bawling, inconsolable mess. From there the horror part of the story really kicks in with the usual bumps in the night and aspects of the book playing out in real life. The film is really astutely made and because the tone and pacing are both so spot on, it makes it all the more terrifying. And believe me it is terrifying. It’s a very different horror film too, with its stylish shooting style, being not at all visceral and clearly influenced by though not derivative of classic haunted house films. Thematically, this is a very dark and adult horror film. It is not just about the supernatural threat to the physical body, but it also deals with grief in a very intelligent and interesting way. It is also one of the better examinations of the relationship between a mother and her child in a horror film that has been seen for quite a while.
There is so much texture in this film. The house where a lot of the action plays out has a lot of wood and a very gothic feel to it, the soundtrack and sound design both add so much without distracting at all, whilst the heavily focused on close-ups shooting style also brings a really different vibe to the film. Essie Davis is well known to Aussie audiences for her role as Phryne Fisher in the TV series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. She is excellent as the 1920s sleuth in that series, but she is even better in this film. As a mother close to the edge, she totally embodies the role with her physical appearance and mannerisms. The film opens on a long close-up of her face, just being mad good at acting, and from then on you know you are in for a wonderful performance. She excels at both the grounded elements of the script, as a mother who just cannot take any more and is becoming increasingly exasperated with her son’s nightmares, and also at the scream laden supernatural aspects of it. The fact that Davis’ performance is so excellent is important because the arc of her character, her disintegration, is a very good narrative through line for the film. I was expecting Essie Davis to be as wonderful as she is, but a total surprise to me was the performance from young Noah Wiseman as Samuel. It is one of the more shocking performances from a young actor I have seen in quite a while. Part of that is because he is totally invested in the role and genuinely acting, not just playing along as himself. There are a couple of sequences where the character is putting on magic shows. And so excellent is Wiseman’s performance that he is able to act as the bad actor that the character would be… if that makes any sense. In any case, he is really good at everything, from making you believe he is an annoying brat, to a genuinely troubled kid, to mortally terrified.
I saw this film on my birthday, two beers in hand down at my local cinema. Aside from the fact it scared the shit out of me, it was a perfect present. A highly original and artistically made horror film from my home country that knocked my socks off. Here is hoping that the film is a big success and it leads to Kent being able to bring some more frightening tales to the screen. If you get the chance over the next couple of months to see it, jump at the chance.
Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
I have been having a lot of issues with my internet of late, plus I have also been away a lot (and am heading off again tomorrow), so I have been a little quiet with my writing and reading of other folks work, so sorry about that. Seem to have found a small window of slooooow internet though, so thought I would chuck this review up.
Australian horror flick The Tunnel (2011) got a lot of attention both here and internationally during its conception. Whilst it may not appear so innovative now only a few years removed, some of the tactics adopted by the producers of the film to get it off the ground and get it seen by as many people as possible, were pretty groundbreaking. Before crowd-sourcing was really a thing, they attempted to essentially crowd-source this film by selling of each frame of the film for a dollar. Whilst they did not end up selling all the frames they required, this approach got them enough notice to ensure sufficient funding was forthcoming to complete the film. Outside of that, the distribution model that was taken, and that continues to get the film out there, has ensured that the film has been seen by far more people than would have otherwise been the case. The film can be downloaded legally for free through a number of file sharing services, the film’s official website, watched on a number of VOD platforms, or purchased on DVD or Blu-ray (I personally took the Blu-ray option). I think these kind of left of centre approaches are becoming more common, which I think is great to see. I also think that as these approaches are used more and more they will become more refined and hopefully help smaller filmmakers cover the costs of their film and turn enough of a profit to ensure they can make their next one.
Outside of all that though, does The Tunnel actually work as a horror film? I say most definitely. The film starts slowly, struggling early on to get over the top of some of the more average performances and getting sucked into some of the trappings of its chosen mockumentary style. After this flat opening though, the action ramps up and the film turns into one of the more tense and frightening local horror films (or just horror films in general) that I have seen in recent times. The plot sees the NSW government planning to use the abandoned network of tunnels underneath Sydney for a water recycling plant. Suspicions are raised amongst the media however when for some reason, the Government simply drops the idea with no explanation whatsoever. Rumours abound as to the reasons why, including that homeless people who live in the tunnels for shelter have been disappearing at an alarming rate. To investigate, a news crew sets off below ground to investigate what the hell is taking place underneath the train network of Sydney.
For starters, how bloody amazing is a network of abandoned tunnels as a setting for a horror film? Instant atmosphere right there. The film makes good use of it as well, without ever really being cheap about it. There are some spectacular scares in this film. It is best at creating tension, using atmosphere and action onscreen to have you freaking out a bit at what is to come next. Perhaps through the first half the film is a little better at creating this tension than actually delivering on it. But that changes throughout the latter part of the film, with the conclusion and last 15-20 minutes being especially satisfying. I was concerned that the action and tension would disappear when the true nature of the sinister force below the surface was revealed. The filmmakers though use this to their advantage and if anything make things tenser following the reveal. Whilst I have written before about how tired the mockumentary genre can get, The Tunnel does a pretty good job of keeping it fresh. It is helped by the fact that those taking the footage are a news crew, which is something a little different and it also gives those in the action a reason to comment on it, without having it feel too contrived. There are also interviews with a couple of those who were involved which helps to break up the shaky-cam (which actually isn’t too prevalent in any case). The performances are all good from the main cast members, however none of these performances is the real focus. Rather they are there to serve the creation of tension and fear, and they manage that. First time feature director Carlo Ledesma brings a lot to this film though. It is not a film that is entirely straightforward to marshal and convey, but Ledesma does a very good job.
Insanely tense with some awesome scares The Tunnel is highly recommended for aficionados of low-budget horror. It will perhaps not win over too many from outside that fan base, but as an example of what can be created when driven and innovative people put their mind to it, it is really excellent.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
I have written in passing about the new Australian flick Patrick (2013) a couple of times on the blog recently, predominately focusing on the shabby cinema release it has received. I was lucky enough to catch the film when it played as part of the Canberra International Film Festival and now it is getting a limited run at Arc Cinema here in town, so hopefully more people will get the chance to check it out.
For those of you who are unaware, this is a remake of a 1978 Australian ‘ozploitation’ film of the same name. Patrick is a comatose patient confined to an asylum. One of them old school ones where the main doctor is menacing and does terrifying experiments on all his patients. The film focuses on the rather special mental abilities Patrick possesses that he uses to wreak a little havoc and instil terror in those around him. The asylum is tightly run by Doctor Roget, played by Charles Dance and also by Matron Cassidy, played by Rachel Griffiths. Into this atmosphere comes a new, too nosey for her own good nurse named Kathy, played by Sharni Vinson. Patrick has a somewhat different pedigree to most remakes because of the director. Mark Hartley is best known for directing the documentary Not Quite Hollywood (2008) which is an ode to underappreciated classic ozploitation films. It is a little ironic then that this film looks set to join what I think is a really underappreciated batch of genre films in this country, that are getting nowhere near enough love from local audiences.
There is plenty of the schlockiness the trailer suggested in Patrick. But the film is not content to just rumble along doing that the whole time. It gets dark toward the end and I mean super dark. It is refreshing for an Aussie genre flick to not stay set in its ways the entire way through and to take the main characters some really interesting and unexpected places. One of the major positives for the film is the fact that, for me at least, it was genuinely scary. There were some good jump scares and also occasions of building the tension up to unbearable levels. There are moments of silliness that do break the mood, but looking back on the film, they definitely do not cloud my overall memories of it. Whilst not a haunted house film as such (or at all actually) the film takes place in pretty much a perfect haunted house setting. A majority of the action takes place inside the huge old asylum. It is so old that coupled with the design including costuming, tricks you into thinking this is a period piece for long stretches, when it is actually set in the present day. That sounds kind of awkward in theory, but the reality is that the setting and design really brings you into the world and atmosphere of the film and what it is trying to do. It takes an assured touch to clash elements like this – think iphones and old fashioned credits music – and have it actually deliver something to the film. That is a risk the film takes that pays off. There are other risks the film takes that are not so successful. There is a section involving a hand-job which falls to earth with a decided thud. I guess the intention was to have a big, totally absurd set piece. But unfortunately it was just a big absurd, unintentional laugh from the audience I saw this with. Having said that though, I will always go into a bat for a film that takes risks, even if they affect the overall quality of the film.
Despite being named for the main male character (who spends the entire film flat on his back comatose by the way), this is really Sharni Vinson’s film, with her new nurse at the asylum Kathy being the character whose journey we really go on. Hopefully given the success of You’re Next (2011) which was released this year, the presence of Vinson will ensure the film gets a fair workout on VOD internationally, or perhaps even a limited theatrical release. Just as in You’re Next, Vinson is really good here and she could easily spend the next few years of her career playing these roles very well. All the technical jazz here ranges from good to great. The film is beautifully shot. I am not sure what kind of budget they managed to muster for this, but there are no money deficiencies on show. There are some definite inconsistencies in the script. But most of it is really assured and the clunkiness is minimised. I think Hartley does a really good job with this film. You can tell he has an affection not just for the original film, but the form of old fashioned horror films more broadly and he brings that to bear on this. Importantly, he never lets that reverence get in the way of exploring new ground and his own creative channels. Which is a good thing, because the film could have easily been too stuffy given the narrative is a pretty simple one.
I haven’t seen the original Patrick so I cannot really compare the two efforts. But considered on its own terms, this film stands up as part of a growing canon of underappreciated canon of Australian genre work. This is a fun combination of the schlocky and the really well crafted that will appeal to genre fans, or those who loved Vinson’s work in You’re Next.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
Given the disappointment of not being able to catch Patrick (2013) during this terrifying fortnight, I thought I should check out a little classic Aussie horror action. Enter Long Weekend (1978).
I always try and keep expectations low when chucking a DVD on. But when the DVD in question has the tagline “their crime was against nature… nature found them guilty” it is quite hard to stop expectations from skyrocketing. Thankfully, Long Weekend more than lived up to the expectation created. The story focuses on Peter and Marcia who escape for a long weekend in the hope of repairing their relationship which has fallen on rocky times. The film begins by contrasting the urban and wilderness landscapes as the couple leaves the city for the weekend. Camping is in some way the intersection between those two worlds, a soft entry into the wild world, so it is notable that is what Peter and Marcia are doing. The fact they cannot leave their city slicker life behind and adjust to the wilderness leads them down some dark paths. Their mistreatment of the environment is an awesomely unsubtle allegory for the treatment of our world, one that still rings as true (truer) now as it did 30 years ago. This is a couple who think nothing of tossing cigarette butts out the window, littering, shooting animals for sport and chopping down trees simply because they have the power. They perpetrate wanton destruction as they focus on themselves and nothing else.
Much of this really fantastic film is not what you would call straight horror. One side of it is an intriguing psychological relationship drama full of secrets, hinted at deception and attempts at controlling behaviour. Then on the other side there are the creepy goings on, with animal attacks, spear guns firing seemingly of their own volition and so on. Both of these would make really taut and fun movies. But combine them, and you have something pretty special I think. The film looks really pretty. The cinematography is first class and the whole visual side of proceedings is helped no end by the fact that the action takes place in some pristine Australian wilderness. Long Weekend is also a delightfully Australian film. As well as looking real pretty, the location serves to create a whole lot of atmosphere. Forests that look stunning lit up in the daytime, take on a positively chilling air at night, lit only by headlights. Then there is the wildlife. Numerous birds, a tassie devil, kangaroos, even a fricking dugong make appearances. It says a lot about the quality of the film’s construction that all of these animals have a menacing presence, yet the film is not particularly over the top or camp. Topical and ahead of its time, this would be an ‘issues film’ if it was not so damn fun to watch.
Before checking it out, I had only ever heard Long Weekend hinted at. But I now consider it to be a bit of a minor Aussie classic. Do your best to track it down if you can (it is distributed on DVD by Umbrella here in Aus) and hopefully you will enjoy it as much as me. A film as atmospheric and taut as this, from a country that supposedly doesn’t make genre films, should be seen by plenty more people.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
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