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Short Film of the Day: Electromagnetic

A proof of concept for a feature film, Visual Effects Artist Andrew Marks' (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) directorial debut, starring José Zúñiga and Bodhi Elfman, is a creepy standalone that will resonate with horror fans, and maybe even more so, with filmmakers who have spent too many hours in post production.

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Moving house is, it has to be said, one of the most gruelling pains in the arse that human beings knowingly submit themselves to. Unpacking, moving furniture, trying to find that one box with the thingo in it – absolute bloody nightmare. How much worse is it then for an African American family, the Emorys, as they move into the (then) all-white neighbourhood of Compton? In 19-freaking-53!

Such is the premise of racially charged horror yarn, Them (not to be confused with the 1950s giant ant flick of the same name), a Jordan Peele-esque allegorical genre work that is, at times, shockingly effective.

Not only do the Emorys have to deal with racism and bigotry at the hands of their pasty neighbours, they also have to face a supernatural threat that appears to have taken a liking to their family of four.

Them is, at times, hard work for those not ready for an intense ride. The unrelenting sense of dismay and eeriness rarely lets up and moments of light are few. The performances are uniformly excellent – particularly from leads Deborah Ayorinde and Ashley Thomas – but it’s about as subtle as a swift kick to the goolies. And perhaps that’s okay, what we’re dealing with here is a story entrenched in exploring hideous social dynamics that occurred not all that long ago. Still, it’s not an easy watch.

The episodes are stylish and beautifully executed, with some sequences that will stick with you (an occurrence in episode four is still haunting your humble word janitor) and even though there’s an undeniable love of melodrama, it rarely becomes overwrought or unintentionally camp.

Them is, quite simply, a weaponised anxiety machine primed to deliver effective, if occasionally samey, bleak chills over ten episodes. For horror fans who like their genre yarns dripping with social commentary, and genuinely disturbing horror, Them is a worthy destination for those with the constitution to handle it.

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Get the Hell Out

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A wrong movie makes you suffer for 90 minutes. So says the opening scroll of Wang I-Fan’s Get the Hell Out. It’s a bold choice of words for a director to make at the start of his feature length debut, even if it is followed up by the numbing comparison that the wrong government can make you suffer for 4 years.

Politics runs deep in most horror films, particularly the zombie genre. White Zombie stoked white America’s fear of the unknown. Night of the Living Dead simmers with race relations. Hell, even the dreadful 2008 remake of Day of the Dead tackled war and vegetarianism (or something). So, setting the undead loose in parliament seems like a zombie’s worst nightmare: a no-brainer.

Hsiung (Megan Lai) is a young, dynamic politician trying to shut down a plant that’s pouring toxic waste into the water supply of her hometown. This cocktail of waste has led to a cluster of people contracting ‘idiot rabies’. However, seemingly only effecting the great unwashed, the Government’s policy appears to be “out of sight, out of mind”. That is until the Prime Minister contracts the aforementioned rabies and is soon chomping down on his party members during the middle of parliament. The Taiwan parliament has a reputation for breaking out into fights in the real world, so what’s a little bloodletting between friends, eh?

With the building on lockdown, Hsiung must fight her way out alongside dopey security guard turned junior MP, Wang (Bruce Ho), whose only strengths appear to be having a massive, gooey-eyed crush on our hero.

Get the Hell Out feels like Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim Vs The World crashed horrifically into the computer game, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. The film is 90 minutes of unrelentless onscreen graphics and screaming. It doesn’t seem like a bad thing to begin with. When a film opens up with Hsiung going full on Zangief from Street Fighter 2 on a misogynistic journalist, you’re right to think that this going to be a juicy, well-cooked slab of pop culture. However, the sugar-coated adrenaline will have you rolling your eyes into the back of your head as you’re pummeled with re-enactments to memes you thought had died years ago.

It could be argued that this is a satirical stab at the way modern audiences consume their politics; in handy bite sized chunks filtered through a tiktok video, and that could be the director’s intent. However, scratch that neon veneer away and there is nothing else to get your teeth into. Sure, Get the Hell Out is only 100 minutes, but there’s always an option to let your film take some downtime and give your audience a chance to breathe. As it is, like a child dizzy on lemonade, the film goes so fast, it continually feels just out of reach of comprehension.

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Trailer: Them

No giant ants as far as we can see, just a 1950s suburban America set anthology series created by Little Marvin, influenced, no doubt by Jordan Peele.
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Trailer: The Unholy

Sam Raimi produces this adaptation [alas, not a remake of the 1988 shocker starring Ben Cross] of James Herbert's book Shrine, with production design by Australia's own Felicity Abbott, which marks the directing debut of screenwriter Evan Spiliotopoulos (The Huntsman: Winter's War) and stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Cricket Brown and Cary Elwes.
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Climate of the Hunter

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As horror films go, Climate of the Hunter is a sumptuously surreal offering by Mickey Reece and fellow screenwriter John Selvidge.

Tucked away in a cabin in the middle of the woods, sisters Alma and Elizabeth eagerly anticipate the arrival of their long-time friend Wesley. In his presence, the world eerily churns as the sisters feel varying degrees of attraction and revulsion toward him. What emerges is a tightly-woven and visually rich film bound to titillate those drawn to art house horror, and entice others along the way.

Alma (Ginger Gilmartin) is recently divorced and hiding out with her battered spirit and disillusionment. Her sister Elizabeth (Mary Buss) is a workaholic lawyer from Washington D.C., who is lavishly dressed for the part of high-flown spectator of Alma’s misfortune. Both broody and short-tempered, Wesley (Ben Hall) provides a much needed distraction and soon becomes an object of intense fascination and eventual suspicion. Essentially, is he a vampire?

Over a series of bizarrely prepared dinners, the contents of which are briskly announced by an external female voice, their discussion moves from the quotidian to the metaphysical. Wesley finds himself a great orator, and continually dabbles in philosophical quandaries and poetic effusions. Initially, both sisters are transfixed; yet as his stay wears on, Alma becomes suspicious of other-worldly dimensions and frets over Elizabeth’s deepening affection.

Ultimately, Climate of the Hunter is niche film, but the foray into suspenseful vampiric melodrama could promise more. Mickey Reece is known for the impenetrable; foisting together on-screen symbolic explosions and using melodramatic and turgidly philosophical dialogue. Yet the intrigue at the heart of his latest film, steeped in an absurdist Hitchcockian atmosphere, tethers the audience more closely. It marks a more approachable work, and indulges in a visual and dialectical bravado that might just win over the perplexed.

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There was once a Canadian director by the name of David Cronenberg. The bloke knocked out some of the most interesting, cerebral, body horror-infused sci-fi horror flicks of all time. The Brood (1979), Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983), The Fly (1986), Naked Lunch (1991), and Existenz (1999) to name just a handful. Sadly, ol’ mate hasn’t made a flick since 2014’s patchy Map to the Stars, but it seems a new contender to the crown has stepped up in the form of Dave’s own spawn, Brandon Cronenberg. And this particular icy, unsettling apple has not fallen far from the glistening, biomechanical tree.

Possessor tells the tale of Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough), a kind of contract assassin whose consciousness is placed in the body of another person, letting her control them like a meat puppet to execute the hit. After each contract is completed, Tasya has a debrief with her boss, Girder (Jennifer Jason Lee), where she identifies an assortment of objects and explains their significance, to make sure that her core personality and sanity remain intact. It’s a fascinating premise for a film, and feels very much of Cronenberg senior’s oeuvre, particularly the second half of Videodrome. That’s not to say Brandon is aping his old man’s style whole cloth, but there’s certainly an element of homage at play here.

Andrea Riseborough (Death of Stalin, Mandy) is an utterly compelling lead. Is she doing possessor work out of necessity or does she genuinely enjoy the killing? This question hangs over most of the film, and as her behaviour becomes increasingly cruel and abstract, heady themes of empathy and identity are explored. Christopher Abbott (It Comes at Night, Piercing) also does very solid work as Colin Tate, Tasya’s latest possessee, who seems to have within him the ability to fight back. However, the star of the show here is Brandon Cronenberg’s assured, stylish direction. While less focused on body horror than you might expect for a film of this type, Possessor’s dissection of the self, and the nature of individuality, offers up a cerebral cocktail flavoured with a decent amount of graphic sex and violence, that entertains as much as it disturbs.

Possessor is a well shot slice of sci-fi horror that is all too rare at the cinema these days. While certainly influenced by his father, Brandon Cronenberg makes the subject matter his own and delivers a film that is both visceral and thoughtful, with an uncompromising, chilling tone. And while David Cronenberg appears to have given up the directing caper, it’s pleasing to see the 2.0 version very much bringing the goods. Dare we say it: long live the new flesh.

Deleted scenes are included exclusively on the blu-ray disc:
•    heightened world: The look of Possessor
•    Identity crisis: Bringing Possessor to life
•    The joy of practical: The effects of Possessor.
•    Short film by Brandon Cronenberg.