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.
I kicked off my Sydney Underground Film Festival experience by checking out the Ozploit program of shorts. I won’t review them in detail, but there were some really fun films on the program and it was very cool to not only see such a good crowd, but plenty of the filmmakers in attendance too. The Festival went to the effort of allowing each filmmaker to introduce themselves and their film too, which I thought was a great touch.
The first full length film for me at the festival was Kidnapped for Christ (2014) directed by Kate Logan. This doco examines ‘Christian’ schools designed to essentially ‘reprogram’ ‘troubled teens’. Apologies for all the quotation marks, but they are all necessary. The behaviour exhibited by those behind these schools is clearly not anything remotely what one (no matter your faith) would consider Christian. The reprogramming is nothing short of abuse, whilst the notion that these teens are troubled and in some way deserving of the attempted treatment in the film is ludicrous. Some of the kids have behavioural issues. Some you suspect just got on their parents nerves a little. Others have suffered horrific abuse, including sexual abuse, at the hands of adults and somehow this punishment is designed to help them. Others such as David, a teen the film focuses heavily on, are ‘guilty’ of being openly homosexual. These schools, such as the one in the Dominican Republic the film was shot at, practice what they call Culture Shock Therapy. This involves intentionally taking the kids out of their natural environment, as the unease of the new surrounds makes them more malleable and easier to assert control over. There is also a strictly enforced conformity that comes out of the bullshit militaristic routine that is forced upon the students. Astoundingly, parents pay around $72,000 to have their children treated in this way.
One of the most interesting of all the characters we see in the film is actually the director Kate Logan, who made Kidnapped for Christ as a student film at a Christian college in the USA. Initially, the evangelical Logan attends the school in the Dominican Republic hoping to shed light on the great work that the facility run by fellow Christians is doing. Watching her journey play out on film, as she progresses from attempting to deliver a hopeful fluff piece, to questioning deeply what she is seeing take place, all the way through to deeply questioning her faith is probably the greatest personal evolution seen in the film. I actually would have loved to have seen more of her personal story throughout and especially toward the end. To see the effect that her experiences had overall on her faith, a couple of years after the fact.
As shocking as anything else in this film is the fact that the school administrators were happy for Logan to shoot all of this footage. They clearly thought that what they were doing was so defensible that they had no issue with it being documented in this way. Later in the film, the workers there do begin to get a little nervous, restricting free access for Logan to the kids and taking a much more active role in keeping her from some of the more obnoxious goings on. It is a testament to just how horrible the practices of the school are, that these restrictions really do not lessen the impact of the film at all or how you will feel about the school and others like it. Kidnapped for Christ is not particularly noteworthy cinematic art. It is a student film and you can sort of tell. Parts of it feel almost like a tacky shocking expose TV show, at least early on. But the footage shot on location feels a lot more grounded and therefore effective. None of this is meant as a slight against Logan. She is clearly a talented filmmaker and more importantly, like many of this generations best documentarians she has a distinctive eye and sensibility that means when she inserts herself into proceedings, the film is elevated rather than becoming an ego piece.
Verdict: Kidnapped for Christ could have easily rested on its shocking material and been a watchable, shocking and informative film. But by overlaying her personal experience and confrontation with what she is seeing, Kate Logan makes the film much more rewarding than just that. Hopefully she continues to make more docos, because I will certainly be hunting them down. Pint of Kilkenny
Don’t forget to get commenting away to go in the draw for a couple of sweet Madman DVDs. Details here.
As you know I am currently experiencing the Sydney Underground Film Festival for the first time. Rather than my standard weekend trailer, I thought I would share trailers for five of the 35 or so films that are playing at this year’s fest. The program is pretty incredible and hopefully these trailers give a sense of the variety of films on offer. Let us know if you are particularly keen (or not) for any of these.
The opening night film for this year is the Kiwi horror film Housebound (2014). Unfortunately a Thursday opening night was not doable for me this year, but I will luckily be able to see the film during its second screening on the Saturday. Looks like pretty frickin fun low budget horror comedy to me.
Another horror-comedy effort, though this one more polished looking, is Suburban Gothic (2014) starring Kat Dennings among others. I’ll be interested to see how this one goes really. On paper I love the concept, but the trailer gives me some cause for concern. A little too much sheen.
Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno (2013) is probably the highest profile film playing at SUFF 2014. I am pretty sure that it is the film’s Aussie premiere actually, but I could be wrong. I am keen to see the film eventually, but have elected to leave it for another time. I sort of suspect I will need some time to process the it and I probably won’t get that in the hectic film fest environment.
As well as features and shorts, the fest has a great looking selection of docos programmed as well. Freeload (2014) examines the experience of modern day transients. As a fan of narratives that romanticised traditional versions of this lifestyle, such as those by Guthrie and Kerouac, I am interested to see what the reality is like these days.
The closing night film of the fest is the controversial and divisive Wetlands (2013). I have tried not to read too much about the film, knowing I would be seeing it at SUFF. But I know it did garner a fair bit of hate following its screenings at MIFF recently, including from some feminist critics. I am interested to see exactly what the film is all about and importantly what it is trying to say.
By the time you awesome people read this, I will be on the bus to Sydney for my first ever Sydney Underground Film Festival (SUFF). I am really excited for this fest and I think that the programmers have put together an incredible program, which you can check out here. I am keen to support more festivals and I actually contributed to a crowdfunding campaign for this one, so I am definitely keen to see what the festival has to offer. I have only heard good things about it and I know the venue is a good one (mind you I have only seen live music there, so will be interesting to see how they set it up with four screens). I am seeing a full slate of thirteen films over the three days I will be there which is equal parts frightening and really exciting. I am intending on reviewing of all them, except the one short film session I am attending. So look for those reviews to trickle out starting Monday night my time and they will probably take me a couple of weeks to bash out.
Anyone ever been to an awesome (or terrible) underground film festival? Take a look at the SUFF program as well and let me know if you have seen anything, or if there is anything there that particularly appeals to you.