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Anna and the Apocalypse

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

The zombie comedy sub genre has become almost as stale and overused as the very zombie genre it seeks to parody/pay homage to. The high-watermark remains Edgar Wright’s wonderful Shaun of the Dead but other flicks like Zombieland and Dead Snow have their slight charms as well. The problem is it’s all been done before. Over and over and over again. To be a memorable zombie comedy in this most crowded of markets a film really needs to add something new. Anna and the Apocalypse from director John McPhail asks ‘what if it was a musical?’ to mixed, but mostly engaging results.

Anna (Ella Hunt) is a teenage student in her last year of high school. She wants to travel and see the world, much to the chagrin of her sensible dad, and has a close group of fellow misfit friends all obsessed with their own minor problems and triumphs. Everything goes tits up when a zombie apocalypse breaks out on Christmas and Anna and her mates must reach their nearest and dearest before it’s too late. And, of course, they’ll belt out a few songs along the way.

Anna and the Apocalypse is at its best when it plays to the angst and self involved myopia of being a teenager. One particularly striking number features Anna and her best friend (who would like to be more) John (Malcolm Cumming) singing about a brand new day, blithely oblivious to the fact that they’re prancing through a neighbourhood beset by zombies. A lot of the early moments ring true, authentically portraying the real concerns of adolescence without becoming cloying and twee. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t quite sustain this and in the second half becomes a much more familiar zombie romp, replete with gore gags and undead humour you’ve seen before, done better.

Still, charm goes a long way and Ella Hunt is an extremely watchable screen presence, managing to convey genuine pathos even while singing and dancing. The songs, overall, are a bit hit and miss – and there’s possibly one tune too many – but if you’re sitting within the venn diagram of “millenial”, “loves zombies comedies” and “lives for musicals” you’re likely to have a spectacularly good time with Anna and the Apocalypse. And the rest of us can, at the very least, admire a zom com that attempts to gnaw on something a little different.

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Horror, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Movies that mash different genres together are increasingly rare at the cinema these days, which is a pity. Some fantastic films have pulled off this trick, like John Carpenter’s The Thing (sci-fi and horror), Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk till Dawn (crime and horror) and Pan’s Labyrinth (fantasy and war) to name but three. It’s a trick that looks deceptively simple, but in reality is a complicated balancing act. It’s also one of the best aspects of Overlord, a cracking yarn that meshes the war and horror genres and comes up with an absolute belter of a flick.

Overlord tells the tale of a squad of paratroopers tasked with destroying a German radio tower on the eve of D-Day in WWII. Naturally, the jump goes badly – shot in a stunningly effective sequence – and the handful of survivors must work out how to complete their mission, with the D-Day deadline looming ever closer. This plot alone would have made for a taut, effective war movie but when it’s clear that the Nazis are working on some nefarious shit nearby, the movie moves into horrific territory and before you can say “Nazi zombie super soldier”, Overlord kicks right the hell off.

What’s most pleasing about Overlord is how effectively it manages both genres. The war stuff is genuinely tense and effective, but the horror is well-handled too, never descending into empty schlock or becoming a splattery dirge. The skillful direction by Aussie Julius Avery (Son of a Gun) is further buoyed by excellent performances, including Jovan Adepo as wide-eyed protagonist Ed Boyce, Wyatt Russell (Kurt Russell’s son!) as grizzled bad arse Corporal Ford, and Pilou Asbæk as villainous Nazi scumbag Hauptsturmführer Wafner. Add to this gloriously grotesque creature effects, genuinely shocking acts of violence and a rip roaring never-say-die third act and you’ve got a joyously entertaining, rollicking adventure on your hands.

Overlord is an old-fashioned movie in a way. It’s not based on a comic, or a reboot of an existing franchise; it’s a fun, self-contained, well written, acted and directed cross genre movie and a hell of a good time.

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Claudio Simonetti: Scoring Suspiria

With the remake in cinemas now, we talk to Goblin main man and score composer extraordinaire, Claudio Simonetti, about crafting the music for Dario Argento’s 1977 horror marvel, Suspiria.
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Patient Zero: What’s a Zombie Film?

That’s right, producer Vincent Newman reckons that his thriller is not of that sub-genre, though director Stefan Ruzowitzky isn’t so adamant, when we spoke to them both on the set more than two years ago.
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The Soul Conductor

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

Every culture has their own thoughts about what it would be like to see ghosts. In American blockbuster, The Sixth Sense, it’s a heavy burden borne by a child. In Russian film, The Soul Conductor, it’s an enormous pain in the arse that can only be helped by vodka.

Katya (Aleksandra Bortich) is a moody, gloomy 22-year-old woman who can communicate with the spirits of the departed. The problem is, ghosts are bloody needy! They’re always demanding she help them with their unfinished business and strong spirits are the only way to deal with these, well, strong spirits. Just when you begin to suspect The Soul Conductor will become a Russian riff on Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners, Katya’s twin sister vanishes mysteriously and Katya begins to experience terrifying, nightmarish visions. A dark occurrence is taking place and Katya must try to solve the mystery before it kills her, however it’s hard for her to trust her own fractured, drunken mind much less anyone else…

The Soul Conductor is a strange, appealing, mishmash of genres and tropes with an unmistakably sharp Russian edge. Aleksandra absolutely steals the show as the troubled Katya, and watching her work through a compelling supernatural yarn never stops being engaging. Director Ilya S. Maksimov directs with confidence, imbuing some of the more rote ghost attacks with a genuine sense of tension and otherworldly horror. The film occasionally tries to overplay its hand, with the twists in the third act coming so fast they do tend to strain credulity. However, the strength of the lead and the unravelling of what’s real and what’s imagined gives The Soul Conductor enough narrative propulsion to be consistently intriguing. And while you may or may not be afraid of ghosts, either way it seems like a decent excuse to neck some vodka.

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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.