Australia is busting at the seams with talented young filmmakers creating content for TV and the web, all off their own steam, and with seemingly little financial reward. Though high quality material is abundant, much of this work fails to break through into the mainstream, which is, to put it mildly, a damn shame. Hopefully, the utterly delightful comedy, Hot Mess, will buck the trend and capture hearts on the large scale that it truly deserves.
Written and directed by Lucy Coleman (whose web series, On The Fringe, is online now), this thoroughly contemporary tale of love, desperation, and misplaced priorities has the smarts and savvy to make its non-existent budget an instant non-problem, and even a strange kind of strength.
At the centre of this finely judged piece of comedic economy is 25-year-old Loz (Sarah Gaul is an absolute revelation here, expertly navigating a difficult but truly loveable character who bounces all over the emotional map), a burgeoning writer who seems intent on sabotaging her own success. Hotly touted to be awarded with a coveted writer-in-residence gig at a theatre run by the no-nonsense Greg (a nice turn from Sydney acting school godfather, Terry Serio), the talented Loz constantly jeopardises her chances by coming up with increasingly graphic and confronting feminist-minded material. Harangued by her concerned and disapproving mum (well played by Zoe Carides), the hopelessly adrift Loz sees an anchor in Dave (the gifted and charismatic Marshall Campbell), a nice guy who might just be the answer to her romantic dreams. Unless he’s not…
Cleanly but imaginatively shot by DOP, Jay Grant, and boasting a just-right musical score by Jack Hambling and Tom O’Dea, Hot Mess really sings when it comes to performance and script. Lucy Coleman’s dialogue is loopily of-the-moment, but it never feels cloying or contrived. Her characters speak like smart, thoughtful young people do in “real life”, and the creation of such pitch-perfect dialogue is no mean feat indeed. It’s helped to no end by the actors speaking it, all of whom ring and sing with wit and authenticity. Effortlessly current but undeniably timeless, Hot Mess is a warm and wonderful work from a very exciting new voice in Australian comedy.
Screened at Sydney Film Festival, in the Freak Me Out program strand, Here Comes Hell is a genre mash-up debut feature effort from UK Director Jack McHenry and co-writer Alice Sidgwick. Having worked on music videos and short films before this, McHenry shows confidence in his style. His previous short film, Dungeon of Vampire Nazis showcases his crew’s filmmaking style and passion for cinema, which also shines through in Here Comes Hell.
Hell does a great job of capturing an early cinema aesthetic by paying homage to classic filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock and William Castle. From the opening shot, the mood is set, when the audience is greeted by a man talking directly to camera and introducing the film. To top it off, it’s also filmed in black and white and presented in the boxed 4:3 format.
This film knows exactly what it is and uses all the classic tropes of ‘50s B movies while mashing it with other genre film styles. The actors crank their performances up to 11 and at no point are they, or the film, afraid to be cheesy. The accents are hammy and over the top, just like the performances. If you can imagine a ’50s B movie classic with the slapstick gore of Evil Dead, this is what Here Comes Hell delivers.
The plot is familiar and simple, an old haunted manor house with a group of young people playing around with the occult and opening up a gateway to hell. There are plenty of laughs and scares, as the guests have to put down their wine glasses and pick up weapons with every man (and woman) for themselves in a fight to make it out alive before dawn.
Even though the runtime is short, it does take what feels like a very long time to get into full swing. Like two completely different movies, for the first 35 minutes you’re watching a social drama and for the rest it’s a 1980s horror flick, complete with one liners and crash zooms. The film becomes more entertaining once the gates of hell have been opened but before that there isn’t enough to cling to; the film would have benefited from spending the first act fleshing out characters, and there are plot points that are hinted at but never fully explored, such as the intertwined past relationships between the guests.
Mixing practical and visual effects to achieve a look that is both pleasing to fans of genre and general audiences, the filmmakers have made their modest budget work, and the passion behind the project shows on screen.
With its cheesy dialogue, hammy accents and stereotypical characters, Here Comes Hell does everything short of wink directly to camera. It’s refreshing when a director knows the ins and outs of the genre he’s trying to recreate, and McHenry shows a lot of promise with his obvious love for cinema and knowledge of its clichés and techniques. Parody films usually have a paper-thin premise and a style that is not unique, but Here Comes Hell is thankfully one of the exceptions.
It's Superbad with girls, even Jonah Hill's sis Beanie Feldstein stars (alongside Kaitlyn Dever), in a story about a couple of high achievers who realise that they forgot to party during high school, deciding to change all that in one night!! Directed by actress Olivia Wilde.
Biology fact: The left hemisphere of the brain controls the right of the body. It is the part of the brain that deals with analytic thought, logic and reasoning. And it’s also known for having a goatee, wearing sunnies and wrist full of bracelets. At least that’s how it is in Me and My Left Brain, the latest from aussie filmmaker Alex Lykos (Alex and Eve).
Lykos plays Arthur, a man who gave up a cushy job so he could pursue his dream of being an actor. His success appears to be fair to middling with Arthur carving out a career for himself in independent theatre. However, when an audition call is made for a higher profile project, Arthur decides he needs to put himself out there. Wanting to have an early night before the big day, Arthur instead begins to obsess about his relationship with his friend, Helen (Chantelle Berry), and starts spiralling down a rabbit hole of past memories.
That right there is enough to fill up your average indie, but Lykos goes a couple of steps further by having Arthur air out his insecurities and panic to the personification of his Left Brain, played by Malcolm Kennard (Catching Milat). Cutting magic realism off at the pass, Me and My Left Brain doesn’t rely on a Drop Dead Fred scenario wherein Left Brain becomes a real boy and gets up to ‘shenanigans’. No, Left Brain is just an average part of Arthur’s life; a roommate who doesn’t need a lot of maintenance.
Kennard plays Left Brain with the joyous swagger of someone who cares for their dweeby little human but finds frustration in their Woody Allen-esque pontification. When Arthur bumps into friends who have done better than him, Left Brain is on hand to hurl abuse at them on behalf of Arthur, who can only be meekly polite.
As the night wears on, the two men – one man and a lobe? – bicker about whether Helen was much more than a friend whilst buying milk, watching pornography and pretty much anything else that isn’t going to get him a good night’s sleep before the Big Day.
Me and Left Brain could easily jack-knife into bro-ish, friend zone lamenting, clap trap where ‘women just don’t get it, man’, but avoids it by Left Brain skewering Arthur’s obsessive nature. As memories are rehashed via flashbacks, Helen is never made out to be flirt or a tease; she’s a fully rounded human who isn’t as easy to read as she would be in other rom-coms.
Lykos and Kennard play off each other well, but so too does Lykos with his other co-star Rachael Beck, who portrays Arthur’s best friend, fellow actor Vivien.
At times, however, Me and My Left Brain is too theatrical in its execution and begs for more of a flourish to separate present day Arthur from his night time worries. With Left Brain cutting down Arthur’s worry, it feels like there was a missed opportunity for a Rashomon effect, where we see events from the logical lobe. Additionally, the film’s conclusion, despite its obvious charm feels like we’ve spent so long with Arthur’s head that we now need to rush towards the end credits.
Overall, for anyone who has ever experienced that late-night self-doubt that blossoms into insomnia and anxiety, Me and My Left Brain will be immediately relatable. Through his snappy dialogue, Lykos captures that never-ending circle of a thought process where you manage to put something to bed before a fresh new detail arrives on the scene to unpick everything.