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The Furies

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

There’s a lot to be said for ambition. Writer/director Tony D’Aquino clearly has it in spades, as demonstrated in the low-budget Aussie horror flick, The Furies. Although not exactly original in its set up, the film soon forges its own weird identity, replete with striking imagery, plot twists and copious graphic gore.

The Furies opens with two friends, Kayla (Airlie Dodds) and Maddie (Ebony Vagulans) being kidnapped by persons unknown. Kayla wakes up in what looks like a coffin, escaping it to find herself trapped in the middle of nowhere and being stalked by hulking masked figures with names like RotFace, PigFace and Skincrow. Kayla must brave the Australian bush, try to forge relationships with her fellow hunted and track down Maddie, all while staying alive.

What The Furies lacks in originality it makes up for with a gleeful commitment to gore. An early kill has a lady cop an axe to the bonce – where it gets stuck – and the killer extracts the axe, popping her screaming face off like a scab in the process. It’s not entirely convincing (and anatomically extremely dubious) but it’s done with such cheerfully sadistic relish it’s weirdly charming. If you’re a gorehound, that is. Those of a more delicate disposition should stay well, well away because this one is blood splattered for the duration.

Plot-wise The Furies features some unexpected, and occasionally unintentionally hilarious, twists in the back half. And while they can skew silly, there’s something admirable in the director’s singular commitment to this lunatic vision. This could have so easily been a straight slasher film, but we eventually end up with weird conspiracies, biomechanical implants and an oddly convoluted but ambitious mythology.

The Furies isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s a solid contender for ‘second or third movie of the night’ status in a boozed-up horror marathon, when critical faculties have been pleasantly impaired and the heart’s desire is purely for weirdness and gore.

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The Lodge

Horror, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Six months on from the death of their mother, Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh) are struggling to come to terms with their father’s new fiancé, Grace (Riley Keough) – a young woman who escaped a suicide cult as a child.

To try and strengthen their relationship, their father (Richard Armitage) organises a family trip to a remote winter house. But after he is forced to return to the city for business, a snowstorm hits and the estranged kids and Grace begin to experience strange and frightening occurrences.

Cut from the same traumatic cloth as their debut Goodnight Mommy, Austrian duo Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s new horror The Lodge concerns another family dealing with emotional hysteria. Opening with a truly unsettling epilogue, the directors are becoming adept at manipulating their audience’s fears; exploring similar themes of despair, human frailty and motherhood.

The jewel here is Riley Keough – a vulnerable woman wrestling with her own tragic history. In true giallo-style, her first appearances on screen are fleeting and enigmatic; the camera catching her slip out the back of a garden or as an intangible silhouette outside a window.

Her attempts to bond and connect with the grieving children, played well by Martell and McHugh, are what the story initially hinges on and the destruction/regression that ensues is where the psychological horror really digs in its claws.

Their differing religious beliefs create many unsettling moments, including Grace’s discomfort at the sight of crosses around the household and a creepy omnipresent painting of the Virgin Mary. Eschewing cheap jump scares, the film’s musical cues and sound design is mostly effective and adds to its jarring and claustrophobic territory.

We also get eerie found-footage glimpses into Grace’s life in the evangelical doomsday cult – further amplified by her cult leader father being played by Keough’s real-life father (musician David Keough, in his debut role).

Franz and Fiala, who also co-wrote the screenplay, draw out the tension well – never letting us know where our sympathies should lie between the three central performances, as the ambiguous frights and (often implausible) red herrings accumulate. With obvious nods to The Shining, there are elements that draw to mind Ari Aster’s Hereditary – foreshadowing events with the use of dollhouse imagery and slow panning shots through the retreat’s dark wooden interiors.

Punctuated by a menacing score and finale that will resonate loudly, The Lodge is a visceral chiller, with an impressive turn from Keough.

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Dark Place

Australian, Australian New Wave Filmmakers, Festival, Horror, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Australia has a long and proud history of making unforgettable genre films, despite the prevailing funding bodies’ mercurial interest in supporting them. From dark, allegorical thrillers like Wake in Fright (1971) to slowburn classics like Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), to nature-run-amok flicks like Razorback (1984), to more traditional outback slasher gear like Wolf Creek (2005), not to mention modern classics like Jennifer Kent’s iconic The Babadook (2014). We have, however, dropped the ball somewhat in letting the first people’s voices be heard in genre film, and anthology Dark Place seeks to change that rather glaring omission, by featuring shorts from rising Aboriginal filmmakers.

Like all anthology films, Dark Place is at times less than the sum of its parts, as the quality and level of interest varies from piece to piece. Solid efforts include Liam Phillips’ Foe, about an insomniac who begins to question her own sanity and Rob Braslin’s Vale Light, about witchy shenanigans on a housing estate. Perun Bosner’s arty Shore, shot in black and white, and dripping with atmosphere, feels a tad disconnected from the rest of the films, and while it’s not a dud, it’s certainly the weakest entry.

However, it’s the opening film, Kodie Bedford’s Scout and the closer, Bjorn Stewart’s Killer Native that are the stars of the show. Scout is a harrowing look at indigenous women sold into sex slavery, that mercifully becomes redemptive with borderline grindhouse glee, and Killer Native is a genuinely hilarious black comedy, set in colonial times with an indigenous twist on the zombie genre. Watching both of these shorts will almost certainly have you yearning for them to get the feature length treatment, with Killer Native in particular showcasing a sly, acerbic wit and fantastic comic timing, not to mention spectacular gore and a genuinely surprising ending.

It would be easy to suggest that you see Dark Place because giving a platform to rising indigenous voices is important, which is absolutely true. However, Dark Place can simply be recommended as an extremely solid, horror anthology, with two stand out entries, that’s well worth your time and attention and a grand addition to Australian genre cinema in general.

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Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Horror, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark began life as a popular children’s book by Alvin Scwartz and, while it never made much of a cultural impact in Australia, it was hugely popular in the United States and beyond. A mixture of folklore, classical literature and urban legends informed the writing of the short stories, and made an indelible impact on generations of impressionable youngsters. A film adaptation seemed a gimme, and with Guillermo Del Toro writing the screen story and producing, not to mention talented director Andre Øvredal (The Autopsy of Jane Doe) at the helm, Scary Stories was shaping up to be a genre classic for a younger audience. So why then is the result just sort of… there?

Scary Stories tells the ambitious, and frankly convoluted, story of three teens, Stella (Zoe Colletti), Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) who run afoul of a bully on Halloween night and end up trapped in the local haunted house. There they discover a book full of scary stories and unwittingly unleash a curse that will soon have their friends and family starring in real life versions of manifested tales.

Scary Stories comes alive when it’s adapting mostly effective twists on the well-worn vignettes the book is famous for, however, the overlong, needlessly complicated investigation by the kids around these moments really makes the film drag.

Set, for some reason, in 1968, the investigation sections have the look and tone of a more mature, adult genre flick, yet the scare scenes are undoubtedly skewed for slightly morbid tweens. The end result is a weird disconnect, where the set ups are slower and more considered and the pay-offs goofy and relatively lightweight.

Øvredal’s direction is just as moody and tense as his other work, but it seems ill-suited to this material and the sequences that rely heavily on CGI, particularly a notorious moment involving spiders, just don’t land. That said, the final third features effective staging and genuinely gruesome imagery, but it’s just a little late in the runtime to save it.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark suffers from an identity crisis and never seems to relax into what type of movie it wants to be. The perky scares are dragged down by the leaden drama, and it’s hard to imagine any but the most patient of youngsters freaking out over this rather drab and listless spookshow.

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Jim Jarmusch: ‘Wake the Fuck Up’

The revered filmmaker doesn't like zombie movies and has never watched The Walking Dead, but that didn't stop him from taking up Tilda Swinton's challenge, gathering his ensemble of collaborators and making The Dead Don't Die, a comedy with something to say about the world that we live in.
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Nekrotronic VR Experience

Our roving reporter got a first hand demo by the filmmakers themselves, of the Nekrotronic VR experience, and he also got the goss about their hopes for an R rated Star Wars!
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IT Chapter Two

Horror, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

2017’s adaptation of Stephen King’s It, by director Andy Muschietti, was an enormous box office hit and at the time of writing is the most successful horror movie ever made. Based on King’s gargantuan monster-mashing masterpiece, the wise decision was made to split the novel into two parts (the damn thing is over 1,300 pages) with It telling the tale of the Losers’ Club as kids and It Chapter Two finishing the yarn 27 years later, with our plucky heroes in their 40s.

Translating the adult parts of the book was always going to be tough, as even the most ardent King fan will likely agree that the children’s chapters are more effective. See, the titular beastie at the heart of It is an ancient shape-shifting, cosmic horror that takes on the form of your worst nightmares. So, for kids, it can be a leper, a scary painting come to life, or a zombified relative. However, adults have different fears entirely, and how do you effectively manifest as a grownup, horror like mortgage repayments, prostate exams or indifferent spouses? Muschietti opts to take Chapter Two in a quite different direction, and while it’s not as elegant as the prequel, it’s effective for the most part.

So, 27 years have passed since It aka Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard) was defeated by the youthful Losers’ Club. Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) is the only Loser not to leave the town of Derry, so it’s up to him to contact Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy), Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain), Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan), Richie Tozier (Bill Hader), Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone) and Stanley Uris (Andy Bean), when it becomes clear the beastie is back and up to its old tricks.

Most of the group go to Derry, albeit with much reluctance, and their mystically-wiped memories return and the terror along with it. For much of the film, we’re with the various Losers as they try to piece together their past, and work out a way to defeat It. James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain both nail their respective roles, and have the most effective journeys in terms of both thematic richness and onscreen horror. In terms of nailing the character, however, Bill Hader absolutely owns Richie Tozier, bringing a hilarious, sweary fatalism to Trashmouth’s glib banter and surprising depth in the back half. James Ransone is at times a wonderful Eddie, however he’s saddled with a couple of sequences that are tonally bizarre, feeling like something from a goofy splatter comedy, which makes his arc a little inconsistent. And, of course, hats off to Bill Skarsgard who once again makes a delightfully bent Pennywise/It, dripping with drool and wall-eyed lunacy, and genuinely fascinating to watch.

Storywise, It Chapter Two is a strange beast. Most of King’s cosmic weirdness was left out of the previous film, which gives this chapter a lot more of the expositional heavy lifting. Ancient rituals, cosmic origins and backstory aplenty are explored to varying degrees of success, leading to a final confrontation that’s pleasingly surreal and emotionally resonant.

Whereas It felt like more of a typical modern horror flick – replete with an overreliance on jump scares and VERY LOUD NOISES – this one hews closer to the likes of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, with hallucinatory elements and a premium placed on conquering personal demons as much as the many gibbering, goggling monsters on show.

Muschietti can be a blunt, unsubtle instrument at times and the script by Annabelle scribe Gary Dauberman isn’t exactly overladen with nuance, however there’s an enthusiasm and willingness to swing for the fences that makes It Chapter Two a messier but more ambitious creation.

After a wonky start, It Chapter Two tells an engaging tale that never feels like it drags, despite its supersized runtime. As an adaptation it follows the spirit, if not the letter, of the book more closely than its predecessor and while it’s never quite as crowd-pleasingly charming, it takes a deeper dive into the psyche of its characters. Bloody, surreal and at times confounding, It Chapter Two is an ambitious slice of cosmic horror bolstered by strong performances, enthusiastic direction and a fantastic (in all sense of the word) monster.

Perhaps in another 27 years we’ll get an even more faithful, ten part adaptation through whatever platform we consume media on, but in the meantime this one here? It’s pretty bloody good.