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Suspiria (2018)

Horror, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

If nothing else, you have to admire the artistic intent behind Suspiria (2018). Even attempting a remake or reimagining of Dario Argento’s beloved batshit bonkers ballet-school-beset-by-witches 1977 original is a bold proposition, and yet for much of its runtime director Luca Guadagnino makes a decent rationale for the film’s existence… right up until he doesn’t.

Suspiria is primarily set in the Markos Dance Academy in Berlin, during the politically fraught German Autumn of 1977. This backdrop adds a sense of chaos and unpredictability that fits the material surprisingly well and adds historical context to a tale that in Argento’s hands played out more like a demented fairy tale. The story really kicks off with the arrival of American, Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) who immediately impresses the severe and enigmatic Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) with her almost supernaturally good dance skills. The dance academy is, of course, a front for a coven of witches – this is established quite early with a minimum of fuss – and we get an insight into the various factions and conflicts that exist within the group, which play out a bit like a supernatural body corporate meeting replete with voting and passive aggression. It sounds goofy on the page, but it works on screen, giving the relationships between these magical women some room to breathe.

The plot wombles along, in no particular hurry and generating only a nominal sense of tension, for five of its six acts (each of which are labelled in a large, imperious font) with plot strands involving Susie, Blanc, inquisitive shrink Dr. Jozef Klemperer (*cough* “Lutz Ebersdorf” *cough*) and Sara (Mia Goth) – all of whom have their own agendas and arcs. Despite the lack of significant narrative propulsion, these slower early sections are when Suspiria works best. Guadagnino has a real eye for this sort of material, and sells the concept of a creepy dance academy spectacularly well, featuring scenes of dance, nightmares, sex and death that rival and occasionally surpass the original in terms of jaw-dropping imagery and ghastly set pieces. The problem is each of these moments seem to exist in isolation, rarely impacting or changing the overall story, giving the film’s better moments a sense of impermanence and struggling to make them feel like they matter. Numerous intriguing character beats – particularly between Susie and Blanc – are abandoned or underutilised in favour of yet another sequence of Klemperer looking lost and banging on about his missing wife.

Still, despite the deliberate pace and the oddly cold directorial style, Suspiria engages for the first five acts. In the sixth act, however, the wheels come right off the whole vehicle and the film takes a sudden and unexpected dive into the narrative equivalent of a room bafflingly filled with barbed wire. We won’t get into spoilers here, but it’s rare that a film’s ending so gleefully and pointlessly betrays the film that preceded it. If the first five acts are a meticulous and icily beautiful exercise in graceful style then the ending is a goofy monster mash replete with not-terribly-convincing gore, unimaginative monsters and plot twists straight out of a D-grade horror sequel with a roman numeral in its title. Hell, it almost feels like Luca handed over the directorial reigns to latter era Argento, as the climax wouldn’t have been out of place in Dario’s rather dire Mother of Tears (2007) instead of the A-list production it actually is.

So, what ultimately, is Suspiria (2018)? It’s a gorgeously shot art film with striking imagery and solid performances – particularly Johnson, Swinton and Goth. It’s also a remake that, despite having ten times the budget and running almost double the length, fails to be anywhere near as memorable and iconic as the original. It’s not a cynical cash grab – this is the product of considerable passion and effort – but it comes off the rails so thoroughly in the final act it’s almost possible to recommend without heavy qualification.

Perhaps the score is the best representation of this film. The 1977 original was scored by Goblin and is a screeching, discordant, unsubtle but brilliant and unforgettable experience that is still referenced, beloved and imitated to this day for its sheer gonzo lunacy. The Thom Yorke score for the 2018 version is meticulous, well-crafted, musically sound and utterly forgettable once it finishes. It’s a case of passion versus perfection, and perfection, while technically impressive, is often deadly dull.

Suspiria (2018) is a well-made film and beautifully shot with stunning dance sequences. It’s also slow, long and ultimately not all that satisfying. Worth a look for the curious, and certainly not an insult to Dario Argento’s most infamous film, it’s just sadly lacking that certain black magic that transforms an aesthetically impressive horror flick into an unforgettable genre classic.

 
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The Marshes

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

Australia is a sun-scorched hellscape upon which God’s most misbegotten creatures crawl. Cinema has tried to teach us this lesson time and time again, with Wake in Fright (1971), Razorback (1984) and Wolf Creek (2005) all offering extremely valid reasons to stay away from the outback. Well, apparently the Aussie marshland is a bloody nightmare too, that is if one heeds the warning inherent in Roger Smith’s The Marshes.

The Marshes takes the somewhat unusual premise of utilising classic Australian folklore as the premise for the scares. In this specific case “Waltzing Matilda”, and running with the concept of a swagman who “tucker bags” those who tread too close to his billabong (not even joking). This is one of those concepts you either run with or reject utterly, because it’s goofy as hell, but if you choose the former option there are grim thrills to be had here.

The main thrust of the story has academic Pria (Dafna Kronental), misanthropic Ben (Matthew Cooper) and student Will (Sam Delich) venture into the remote marshlands to take samples. This draws the initial ire of local rednecks who just hate those bloody city folk, which is unpleasant, but things get much worse when the swagman is summoned.

The Marshes will win no prizes for originality, it’s a pretty standard supernaturally-infused slasher flick, but what sets it apart from a lot of its contemporaries is how slick and well-shot the whole caper is. It genuinely looks like a million bucks, with gorgeous landscape shots juxtaposing with microscopic close-ups of blood flow and parasitic bugs, not to mention the sprawling marshland itself which looks forbidding and unpleasant.

Thanks to the mood and atmosphere a lot of the usual low budget horror foibles can be forgiven – flat performances, stilted script, illogical character decisions – although the constantly dour tone could have used a little work. Grimdark is fine, but it can become a little one note. Ultimately, The Marshes is a flawed but mostly engaging slice of low budget Aussie horror that will remind all right-thinking Australians that it’s probably a much better idea to just stay inside.

The Marshes is on limited release, check the website to find out where it’s screening.

 
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One Cut of The Dead

Asian Cinema, Film Festival, Horror, Review, short film, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

There’s much to be made about the opening shot of Shinichirô Ueda’s One Cut of the Dead, which is ostensibly a short wherein a film crew are attacked by zombies. As a 37-minute-long continuous shot that takes us in and out of warehouses and vehicles, it’s a technical marvel of low budget filmmaking which ends on a beautiful crane shot. But then there’s the little things that distract: gore splattered on screen is wiped off by a hand off camera, the cast miss their cues and in one instance, our hero calls for the director to cut. Taken on its own, this could be Ueda’s affectionate ribbing of when a filmmaker’s ideas just about out-reach their talent. It’s good, but it’s not great.

And then he flips the switch and One Cut of the Dead becomes something different entirely; a behind the scenes look at how the whole thing was put together.

It all begins with Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu), a director of news re-enactments and karaoke videos. Mild mannered and aware of where he sits in the pecking order of life, his creed is “I’m fast, cheap, but average”. At home, his wife, Nao (Syuhama Harumi), moves from hobby to hobby to distract from her real passion of acting, whilst his daughter Mao (Mao) is an overzealous wannabe director who routinely gets fired. Things start looking up when Higaurashi is asked to direct a short film for a new Japanese horror channel. The catch is it must be filmed live and performed in one take. From here One Cut of The Dead follows Higurashi as he tries to achieve what he thinks is the impossible, but which we, the audience, knows can and will be done.

Starting with the film within a film and moving backwards to show its pre-production allows Ueda to have a lot of fun with narrative flow, rewarding his audience with jokes that snowball. Things that seemed out of place earlier, begin to make more sense as the film progresses. The key is how Ueda banks on you being ahead of his characters. So, when the prim and proper actor Chinatsu (Yuzuki Akiyama) tells Higurashi that she won’t film anything to do with vomiting, the humour comes from knowing where this will eventually lead to.

However, not content with the pre-production and constructing a satirical stab at the politics of filmmaking, Ueda goes one step further by showing us the production of the short. And it’s here that Ueda’s cast really jump into the chaos feet first, with Higurashi having to keep every mishap and blunder off camera in order to keep his bosses happy. Those who’ve seen the play, The Play That Goes Wrong, which adopts a similar ‘show must go on’ motif will know what to expect.

Put simply, One Cut of the Dead is a cinematic jigsaw with all the disparate pieces falling satisfyingly into place. Ueda’s attention to detail and meticulous planning is to be applauded as he weaves a clumsy horror short into a tableau which celebrates imagination, filmmaking, and, perhaps most importantly, family; whether that be the one you’re born into or the one you accumulate in a sweaty warehouse covered in fake blood.

 
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Friday the 13th: Ultimate Slasher Edition

Game, Gaming, Home, Horror, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

When we first reviewed Friday the 13th: The Game back in 2017 we enjoyed a lot of things about it, but we certainly had issues. Poor online connectivity, bugs galore and no single player content to speak of hampered a wonderful premise and a horror fan’s dream come true. Well, in the later months of 2018, Friday the 13th: Ultimate Slasher Edition is here to hack and slash with renewed vigour, so how’s it go? Pretty good, with a few qualifications.

Friday the 13th: The Game is officially a hit. A hugely passionate online community and strong sales have really helped the title be all it can be. That means these days you can expect to experience better online performance (although still not perfect), a more balanced game and fewer bugs. That’s all well and good but what about the single player content fans have been clamouring for? Happily, you can now play Friday the 13th offline, wherein you take on the role of Jason Voorhees and butcher a bunch of horny teenagers – as is tradition. What’s wonderful about this mode is the ability to customise the look of your Jason and the counsellors, pick your favourite location and then use specific kills from the movies. Basically, you can unleash your inner Tom Savini and splatter those dang kids in suitably graphic and gruesome ways. Upload the results to Youtube and drink in the adoration of your fans, because here’s the somewhat sad news: Friday the 13th – both the game and movie series – are on hold at the moment because of a lengthy legal battle regarding ownership rights of the property.

That means no new movies, and no new DLC for the game. Hell, some of the advertised kills and modes for the game have been put on hold – with no obvious outcome in sight at time of writing. While this is certainly a bummer, it’s good to remember that the game as is ain’t exactly a slouch. A strong multiplayer mode, frequently hilarious single player slash-a-thon and, with the Ultimate Slasher edition, all of the emotes and outfits for your counsellors add up to a decent offering here.

For those who have been playing since day one, Friday the 13th: Ultimate Slasher Edition is probably not a must buy. However, if you’ve yet to experience the gleeful, albeit occasionally slightly shonky, thrills contained within, this is by far the best version of the experience. And if you can rope in a group of horror-loving mates to help you enact your Friday franchise fantasies? Then you’re in for a hell of a gory good time.

Do it, armchair Jasons, do it for mother!