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The School

Australian, Festival, Film Festival, Horror, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

In one of the most intense, pedal-to-the-metal opening flourishes of any film you’re likely to see in the next few months, The School kicks off with a woman emerging from a bathtub filled with bracken water into a strange, inexplicable world filled with terrified children and ghoulish monsters. It’s a great statement of intent, and it gets The School off to an absolutely flying start. Surprisingly, this low budget Aussie belter then maintains the hectic pace, veering off in all directions, and ultimately playing out like a weird crash-together of Pan’s Labyrinth, Lord Of The Flies, The Babadook and The Others.

The woman in the bath is Dr. Amy Wintercraig (a committed and sensitive turn from Megan Drury), and the inexplicable world that she enters is some kind of strange place between worlds, where children have been abandoned to fend for themselves. The result is a harsh, cruel world populated by feral kids in face-paint, invading monsters (namely the creepy “weepers” and even creepier “hungries”), nightmare visions, and a dangerously inhumane leader in the form of brutal teenager, Zac (Will McDonald). This strange world also involves Dr. Amy Wintercraig’s son and her own personal demons, which are slowly revealed in the film’s equally edgy “real world” scenes featuring a welcome appearance from Bad Boy Bubby’s Nicholas Hope as a suspiciously benign doctor.

Belying an obviously tight budget, debut feature director, Storm Ashwood (who has a number of shorts to his credit), creates an impressively bravura dream-come-nightmare world here, making an ingenious use of interior sets and cannily employed CGI. The performances are strong (child actors, Jack Ruwald and Alexia Santosuosso, are great as Amy’s kindly but needy hosts in this strange new world), and a vivid sense of unease and controlled chaos are expertly maintained throughout. The crashing genres don’t always mesh, but The School remains an impressive piece of local low budget horror.

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I Was a Teenage Serial Killer

Festival, Film Festival, Review, short film, This Week Leave a Comment

A wild mix of fired-up feminist rallying and pitch black humour, this early ‘90s short from influential filmmaker Jacobson still packs as much of a punch as it did back in Riot Grrrl’s hey-day.

The ground-breaking underground film cost an estimated $1600, and has a grainy sliced-up look perfect for its gritty subject matter. Featuring ultimately serious comment and inquiry into patriarchal society (along with gruesome laughs amidst some decidedly non-professional acting) that is as relevant now as it was then, the 27min film is far more than merely a museum piece or passing curiosity.

To reinforce the darker dreams of the film, the grungy soundtrack features a song from the notorious cult leader Charles Manson. That piece plus tracks from ‘90s punk rockers Heavens to Betsy and underground stalwarts Gas Huffer merge sound and vision for a short, sharp shock to the senses.

This was Jacobson’s debut in a career tragically cut short by illness that also included the feature Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore (1996), which will screen with I Was a Teenage Serial Killer at the inaugural Paracinema Fest.

A memorable intro to her work, the film shows how a lasting statement can be made with a purely indie DIY approach to filmmaking.

Paracinema Fest at The Classic

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You Might Be The Killer

Festival, Film Festival, Horror, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Taking its cues – and one of its stars – from meta-slasher comedies such as the Scream films and Cabin in the Woods, this is a clever and entertaining indie-flick perfectly suited to the geekier end of the horror-comedy spectrum. Offering a sideways take on the summer camp style of horror film – a mini-genre all of its own – the film scores highly for sardonic laughs and horror fan reference points.

Fran Kranz (Cabin in the Woods) stars as camp councillor Sam, a guy with a serious blackout and memory loss problem. He wakes up in the great outdoors, which soon become not so great as he discovers corpse after corpse. Luckily for him, he has a phone to connect with best friend and horror movie expert Chuck (Alyson Hannigan). Chuck runs through the various possibilities with Sam, including the fact that, yep, he might be the killer…

With lots of entertainingly envisaged death scenes and a few jump scares, this movie certainly has the requisite nods to the glory (and gory) days of summer camp slashers. But more than that, it has plenty of witty lines examining the state of play of that particular type of film. The tropes of cursed masks, lost loves and of course the ‘final girl’ are all closely looked at by Chuck – who just happens to be working at a comic book and video store – and calmly delivered to a bloody and near-psychotic Sam.

What initially sounds like an uninspiring premise scores highly for laughs and sheer entertainment. Simmons gets the tone just right, with a succinct and always funny script offering lots of scope for the performers to get the best out of it. Good support to the main duo comes from Brittany S. Hall as Sam’s romantic interest Imani and Jenna Harvey’s sweet natured Jamie. A repeated joke involving Steve ‘the Kayak King’ (Bryan Price) is also far funnier than it probably has any right to be.

On the surface, You Might Be the Killer takes simple ideas, jokes and scares and builds on them to create a highly accomplished horror-comedy. A top treat for any horror fan, the film is sharp, snappy and executed with a killer touch.

Also playing at Cameo Cinemas and Classic Cinemas

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Lars von Trier’s Dogville comes to mind while watching Luz. Its stripped-back examination of the cinematic form and sequences featuring ‘set-less’ scene construction bear similarity to the intent of Tilman Singer with this, his debut feature.

It’s at once a synth-soaked ‘80s-inflected demon possession thriller but also an experiment in narrative re-structuring and re-jigging conventional cinematic storytelling language. It plays with event chronology as well as depicting sequences played out through re-enactments of the events by individuals who are demon-possessed, their actions controlled by a literal puppet-master.

Nora (Julia Riedler) meets Doctor Rossini (Jan Blurhardt) in an empty bar. Nora buys drink after drink for the doctor, intent on getting him plastered. Rossini mentions he’s a psychiatrist and eventually the two disappear to the restroom where Nora moves to kiss Rossini and a strange glow begins to emanate from her mouth. The kiss is less romantic and more like a regurgitation of food. Whatever is animating Nora vanishes after the transition into Rossini and Nora drops to the floor unconscious.

Rossini then shows up to a police station, where Luz (Luana Velia), a taxi driver, is being held for questioning after a car accident. As Detective Bertillion (Nadja Stubiger) watches, along with translator Olarte (Johannes Benecke), Rossini creepily places Luz under hypnosis and steers the unwitting woman through re-enacted scenarios in the room which further unravel the story and reveal just what the hell might be going on.

Dialogue is repeated by different characters within various contexts, this puzzle-like, fractal recycling of dialogue and alternating perspectives of the scenes themselves creates different conceptual layers through which this film can be understood and digested.

Like Nolan’s Memento was an exercise is deconstructing form to tell a genre story, Luz fragments the narrative structure as well as the form itself. The story, as it is, is something of a lo-fi reworking of the 1987 sci-fi action-horror The Hidden. The emphasis here is on atmosphere and there’s a good deal of creepiness elicited as Singer works within his budgetary limitations utilising the unique structure and format to spark audiences’ imaginations.

If you’re willing to go with it, there’s an exhilaration at the sheer audacity of a filmmaker bringing this kind of storytelling perspective to bear on a genre picture. Fascinating stuff.

Also playing at Classic Cinema and Cameo Cinema

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Kosai Sekine: Trouble in Tokyo

One of Japan’s most exciting new directors was in Melbourne recently to promote his latest film, Love At Least, which deals with mental illness with an Asian touch.