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Trailer: Smile

Sosie Bacon (Kyra and Kevin's kid) stars in this horror that is bound to be The Joker's fave film of 2022. Watch out for Australia's own Caitlin Stasey and stay til the last frame.
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The Tunnel: The Other Side of Darkness

Australian, behind the scenes, Documentary, Festival, Film Festival, Horror, Review, Streaming, This Week Leave a Comment

Directed by Carlo Ledesma (Sunod) and written by Julian Harvey (My Year of Living Mindfully) and Enzo Tedeschi, 2011’s The Tunnel is a homegrown horror that this year celebrates 10 years of scaring the bejesus out of people. Framed as a documentary about a bunch of murders beneath the heart of Sydney, the film is part The Descent, part The Last Broadcast. If you haven’t already seen it, it’s definitely worth a spin in the old Blu-ray player.

What made The Tunnel capture the attention of not just horror fans, but the mainstream Aussie press was how its creators financed and distributed the film. Its $135k budget was achieved by Harvey and Tedeschi – who also took on the role of producers – pre-selling individual frames at a dollar a pop. When it came time for release, The Tunnel made waves by being the first Australian film to be distributed legally through BitTorrent. Yes, that BitTorrent. The one your mother warned you about.

The Other Side of Darkness revisits the production of the film from Harvey and Tedeschi’s first brainstorming session right through its eventual release in a physical format. Director Adrian Nugent is offered an unfiltered look behind the curtain via interviews with The Tunnel’s main players as well as exhaustive behind the scenes footage. See the crew realise that their next backdrop is an asbestos playground! See actor Goran D. Kleut, who plays the film’s antagonist, failing to not look scary even when he’s joking around! Watch as Julia Gillard becomes an unwitting extra in a moment the crew looks back on, perhaps with a touch of glee, as a shocking lack of security. Nugent paints the picture of a group of artists who went in prepared for all eventualities, except for when they eventually unleashed The Tunnel on to the world.

Having promised those who had crowdfunded the film that it would be distributed freely to everyone, Harvey and Tedeschi found themselves in a tricky situation where they had a distributor who was unsurprisingly nervous about legal downloading. Afterall, at that time, piracy had reportedly cost Australia $1.37 billion in lost revenue. Anyone would be cautious getting in bed with your enemy. This is by far the meatiest part of the documentary, as everyone involved tries to keep their head above unchartered waters. You can’t help but cheer the producers on, even when sobering reality comes in the shape of warehouses filled with unsold DVDs, all from cancelled orders by stores getting cold feet.

Truth be told, perhaps The Tunnel hasn’t made the impact commercially in the same way The Blair Witch Project did. However, the numerous cameos from other Aussie directors, including Kiah Roche-Turner (Wyrmwood franchise), highlight the theme of the documentary: Seize every opportunity with both hands and never be afraid to actually reinvent the wheel once in a while.

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Men

Horror, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Men

Memorable horror movies often incorporate lashings of social commentary to go along with the visceral slashings common to the genre. George Romero’s entire career was typified by this, with Dawn of the Dead (1978) in particular, a wonderfully bleak riff on consumer culture. More recently, we’ve had The Witch, Get Out, His House and Candyman (2021) bringing bulk subtext to varying degrees of success.

Alex Garland, writer/director of Ex Machina and Annihilation, brings a helping of timely social commentary to his new flick, Men, although at times the message feels mixed and occasionally downright opaque.

Men is the story of Harper Marlowe (Jessie Buckley), a young widow who decides to spend some time processing her grief at an idyllic rental property in the quaint English village of Coston. After a fairly awkward, but seemingly harmless, interaction with the property owner Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear), Harper takes a solitary wander through the lush countryside and things begin to take a turn for the surreal. Increasingly so. And by the time the end credits roll? You’re quite likely to be utterly baffled, ecstatically blown away or a strange combination of the two.

Men has a lot going for it. While the narrative is short on events, it’s wonderfully engrossing. This is due in no small part to a superb lead performance from Buckley, who after this and I’m Thinking of Ending Things is surely deserving of art film Scream Queen status. Rory Kinnear is also excellent, encompassing the role of numerous awful male archetypes and delivering his most uncomfortable (but most mesmerising) work since he rooted that pig in Black Mirror’s “The National Anthem”.

And, of course, director Alex Garland has to be given major props for delivering such a dense, atmospheric experience. He is, however, let down once again by writer Alex Garland. See, Garland is the king of the heady setups, but seems to always whiff it in the third act. Ex Machina, Annihilation (and, frankly, Sunshine and his gorgeous telly show Devs as well) all fall apart in the closing moments, to various levels of severity. Men’s ending is so bizarre, and downright Cronenbergian, that it almost gets away with it on sheer chutzpah, but it can’t help feeling a little disappointing after such strong opening acts.

That said, fans of A24, Alex Garland and what insufferable wankers call “elevated genre” are very likely to find something to love about Men. It’s slick, superbly acted, unpredictable and genuinely scary in parts, and while its denouement is perhaps a wee bit muddled, it’s undeniably fresh, original and strikingly memorable.

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Vote YES to Q Club

Writer/director Jace Pickard and star Cassie Hamilton discuss the slasher short set on the eve of the marriage equality plebiscite.
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Hatching ( (Pahanhautoja)

Horror, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

The best kind of horror operates on two different levels. There’s what’s happening on-screen… and what’s really going on. More than any other sub-genre, horror is capable of highlighting the most grotesque aspects of the human condition, and giving it an equally monstrous visage to show the monstrous within us. In Hatching, the debut feature from Finnish filmmaker Hanna Bergholm, this takes the form of Tinja (performed to perfection by young Siiri Solalinna), a child gymnast whose domestic life is as recognisable as it is horrifying.

Tinja lives in the world that her mother (Sophia Heikkilä) has arranged for all to see. A place of pastel colours, crystal glass, and selfie-sticks, all part of a living production put on to satisfy mother’s need for validation through vlogging. Between Heikkilä’s unnervingly real portrayal and Ilja Rautsi’s biting dialogue, mother’s sociopathic tendencies ring through with perfect clarity in her every action and word. In her world, everything exists solely as it reflects on her.

It’s quite the indictment on social media culture and how it latches onto the more hazardous aspects of the creative process (namely, how unhealthy it is when you treat all things in life as fuel for ‘content’), and Jarkko T. Laine’s cinematography really brings out the domestic darkness in the setting.

But comments on the Internet age seem almost incidental compared to what the film is really driving at: The effects of toxic femininity. Tinja’s mother has poured all of her unrealised ambitions and all her desires for praise into her child, and at her stage of development, it’s the kind of attitude that can take root and grow. So, when Tinja finds herself as the surrogate mother of an abandoned bird egg, a lot of what she has been subjected to is mirrored.

The practical effects by Gustav Hoegen and Conor O’Sullivan are all kinds of gruesome in the best way possible, but the true horror is more than skin-deep. As Tinja wrestles with the trauma she lives with, the secrets she’s been ‘suggested’ to keep, and how much her own identity has been suppressed so that her mother can express hers vicariously, the titular Hatching becomes an agent of her subconscious. A showing of just how much damage she’s suffered, and the damage it can cause in turn. Like mother, like daughter.

Hatching is a harrowing domestic thriller nesting in a visceral genre exercise, externalising some particularly vile behaviour and attitudes and highlighting just how much they can warp us as human beings. It’s an examination of childhood trauma as much as it is a critique of Toddlers & Tiaras-esque trophy parenting, and the revelations of where the two intersect make for chilling material. The film craft on offer here is incredible, and shows Hanna Bergholm as a talented filmmaker on par with Julia Ducournau in bringing out the feminine side of body horror.

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The Innocents

Horror, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Every child is a blessing; That is unless they are a character in a horror film.

From The Omen (1976) to just about every Stephen King adaptation, spooky kids are as much of a staple in horror storytelling as roaring chainsaws and black cats.

Continuing this eerie trope – expressing how youngsters are shaped by their upbringing – is the impressively crafted Norwegian thriller, The Innocents (De uskyldige)

In writer-director Eskil Vogt’s (most notable for co-writing the screenplay for The Worst Person in the World (2021)) cinematic contraceptive, kids are not only magically gifted but are out for blood.

It is holiday time for the children of Norway, with the youngsters who remain at a colourless apartment complex – surrounded by beguiling woodland – coming from households who work the hardest to make ends meet. When Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) – a nine-year-old with a penchant for outdoors and overalls – and her family arrive, the once unassuming location begins to crack under the suddenly activated supernatural pressures.

Ida’s older sister, Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), is the most indomitable, with her psychic abilities rivalling that of any character from the MCU. The siblings spend their days exploring the grounds with neighbours Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim) and Benjamin (Sam Ashraf), indulging in light-hearted telekinesis and telepathy (as kids do). It is Benjamin who proves the most high-strung of the bunch, with Vogt correlating his hardships – coming through the form of bullying and abuse at home – with his psychopathic tendencies. It is when he is ridiculed that the playfulness stops, with the film’s antics shifting from playfulness to violent acts of aggression.

Understanding that Benjamin has gone too far, the children unite to thwart his bloody vengeance, using their abilities to dispel whatever innocence the film’s title, ironically, implies they have.

Vogt is a subtle filmmaker that works the long game when it comes to establishing atmosphere. He utilises a subtle score and warm visuals to create a palpable feeling of unease. Even when bones break and the blood spills, Vogt never deviates from this understated delivery. That said, some scenes do struggle under the hammy manner in which powers are executed, with shots of strained faces on screen for arduous periods draining the tension of the scene. Performance wise, Vogt has assembled an impressive cast of actors, with particular praise for the leading sister pairing.

Vogt’s thriller is a sterling example of a harrowing atmosphere at its most subdued. The saying goes that you should never work with children or animals, and The Innocents will have you believe that this is not because of an incapability to follow instruction but to avoid all chances of triggering their supernatural potential.

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