Australia is a sun-scorched hellscape upon which God’s most misbegotten creatures crawl. Cinema has tried to teach us this lesson time and time again, with Wake in Fright (1971), Razorback (1984) and Wolf Creek (2005) all offering extremely valid reasons to stay away from the outback. Well, apparently the Aussie marshland is a bloody nightmare too, that is if one heeds the warning inherent in Roger Smith’s The Marshes.
The Marshes takes the somewhat unusual premise of utilising classic Australian folklore as the premise for the scares. In this specific case “Waltzing Matilda”, and running with the concept of a swagman who “tucker bags” those who tread too close to his billabong (not even joking). This is one of those concepts you either run with or reject utterly, because it’s goofy as hell, but if you choose the former option there are grim thrills to be had here.
The main thrust of the story has academic Pria (Dafna Kronental), misanthropic Ben (Matthew Cooper) and student Will (Sam Delich) venture into the remote marshlands to take samples. This draws the initial ire of local rednecks who just hate those bloody city folk, which is unpleasant, but things get much worse when the swagman is summoned.
The Marshes will win no prizes for originality, it’s a pretty standard supernaturally-infused slasher flick, but what sets it apart from a lot of its contemporaries is how slick and well-shot the whole caper is. It genuinely looks like a million bucks, with gorgeous landscape shots juxtaposing with microscopic close-ups of blood flow and parasitic bugs, not to mention the sprawling marshland itself which looks forbidding and unpleasant.
Thanks to the mood and atmosphere a lot of the usual low budget horror foibles can be forgiven – flat performances, stilted script, illogical character decisions – although the constantly dour tone could have used a little work. Grimdark is fine, but it can become a little one note. Ultimately, The Marshes is a flawed but mostly engaging slice of low budget Aussie horror that will remind all right-thinking Australians that it’s probably a much better idea to just stay inside.