By Julian Wood

The horror genre in particular is the natural breeding ground for the enthusiast and the cultist, and its fan base is notoriously knowledgeable and picky. Australian director, Jon Cohen (The 7th Wave, Final Move) will get a chance to test them out with his latest film, Ravenswood, which will have its premiere on January 7 in Sydney. Production company, Ignite Pictures describes Ravenswood as a supernatural horror thriller. This might sound like covering all bases, but the film is in the honourable tradition of genre mixing scary pics.

The film’s plot is genre-friendly and not overly complex. Four young Americans on holiday in Sydney decide to go on a ghost tour of a spooky mental hospital. This is the kind of innocent-daft decision without which the horror genre could not survive. Of course, the old mental hospital is haunted, and ghosts and demons have not been laid to rest. As we see in the creepy pre-credits sequence, the chief culprit here was a deranged doctor (is there any other kind?) who used excessive amounts of ECT [Electroconvulsive therapy], presumably because he enjoyed watching his patients suffer. As one character helpfully explains, he embodied the opposite of The Hippocratic Oath, and his principle was therefore to do maximum harm.

A scene from Ravenswood
A scene from Ravenswood

The guides of the ghost tour – Zach (Jock Campbell) and Emma (Ashley Fitzgerald) – seem to have their own ulterior motives. Are they conning the tourists? They certainly meet stern resistance in the ultra-sceptical Carl (Adam Horner), who blatantly challenges every supposed ghostly explanation. Of course, like all of them, he will come to a sticky end. The final layer of the set-up is that, in a previous age, the aforementioned deranged doctor (played here by the augustly named Darren K. Hawkins) has killed one of his female patients. The patient and the doctor play out their rivalry via the hapless visitors.

Cohen is on record as saying that it was a difficult shoot, with part of the problem being the basic one of lack of budget. That said, there is good use of locations, and Sydney has famously photogenic aspects. The film makes good use of the much contested Balmain site, Callan Park, where there is a well-preserved old hospital building. Furthermore, time is money, so films like this have to keep the shooting schedule to a minimum. “It was a challenge to shoot the film so fast, especially as we had stunts, a car crash, and a two-minute Steadicam sequence with a dozen people in the shot,” Cohen says. “This was not a single room, two-people-talking type of film. It was ambitious, and we had to commit to shots, as opposed to just shooting coverage and sorting it out in post. But the cast and crew rose to the challenge, and we made a film that we can all be proud of.”

A scene from Ravenswood
A scene from Ravenswood

Shane Savage (who plays one of the ghost tour victims) is another young Aussie committed to this end of the industry. He featured in last year’s mini-epic bushranger drama, The Legend Of Ben Hall, and is certainly aware of the dilemmas of trying to make high quality cinema with very little. “Pulling together a world class production on a shoestring budget was definitely challenging at times but Jon and the crew made the process so much easier with their professionalism and ability to keep the set motivated with laughter…and coffee,” Savage laughs. Doesn’t that sound like so many Australian film sets?

One of the problems of low budget cinema can be the delivery of the lines. Here the actors give the director’s own script their best shot. Not all the scenes fire with the required intensity, and there are moments that Mr. Cohen would no doubt tighten, money allowing. Still, the sense of menace carries through, and the film gets its overall effect without relying upon too many set pieces or spectacular amounts of gore.

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The eventual small screen release is welcome for the project, but it is the American market that gets people noticed. As executive producer and director of Ignite Pictures sister company, Ignite Elite Artists, Michelle Horner attests. “This movie shows that we have the talent and the ability here in Australia to make independent films that sell and compete with the movies made in the US.” She may be on to something, with Ravenswood recently winning the award for Best Horror Film at The Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards.

Ravenswood makes its world premiere in Sydney this Saturday, January 7 at Hoyts Entertainment Quarter. Tickets are now available through . Ravenswood will be released through Uncork’d Entertainment in the US and Ignite Pictures and Marquis Productions internationally in March 2017.

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  • Cazzie
    Cazzie
    9 January 2017 at 10:10 am

    Well done Michelle Horner! We are looking forward to watching this film

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