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Climate of the Hunter

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As horror films go, Climate of the Hunter is a sumptuously surreal offering by Mickey Reece and fellow screenwriter John Selvidge.

Tucked away in a cabin in the middle of the woods, sisters Alma and Elizabeth eagerly anticipate the arrival of their long-time friend Wesley. In his presence, the world eerily churns as the sisters feel varying degrees of attraction and revulsion toward him. What emerges is a tightly-woven and visually rich film bound to titillate those drawn to art house horror, and entice others along the way.

Alma (Ginger Gilmartin) is recently divorced and hiding out with her battered spirit and disillusionment. Her sister Elizabeth (Mary Buss) is a workaholic lawyer from Washington D.C., who is lavishly dressed for the part of high-flown spectator of Alma’s misfortune. Both broody and short-tempered, Wesley (Ben Hall) provides a much needed distraction and soon becomes an object of intense fascination and eventual suspicion. Essentially, is he a vampire?

Over a series of bizarrely prepared dinners, the contents of which are briskly announced by an external female voice, their discussion moves from the quotidian to the metaphysical. Wesley finds himself a great orator, and continually dabbles in philosophical quandaries and poetic effusions. Initially, both sisters are transfixed; yet as his stay wears on, Alma becomes suspicious of other-worldly dimensions and frets over Elizabeth’s deepening affection.

Ultimately, Climate of the Hunter is niche film, but the foray into suspenseful vampiric melodrama could promise more. Mickey Reece is known for the impenetrable; foisting together on-screen symbolic explosions and using melodramatic and turgidly philosophical dialogue. Yet the intrigue at the heart of his latest film, steeped in an absurdist Hitchcockian atmosphere, tethers the audience more closely. It marks a more approachable work, and indulges in a visual and dialectical bravado that might just win over the perplexed.

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There was once a Canadian director by the name of David Cronenberg. The bloke knocked out some of the most interesting, cerebral, body horror-infused sci-fi horror flicks of all time. The Brood (1979), Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983), The Fly (1986), Naked Lunch (1991), and Existenz (1999) to name just a handful. Sadly, ol’ mate hasn’t made a flick since 2014’s patchy Map to the Stars, but it seems a new contender to the crown has stepped up in the form of Dave’s own spawn, Brandon Cronenberg. And this particular icy, unsettling apple has not fallen far from the glistening, biomechanical tree.

Possessor tells the tale of Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough), a kind of contract assassin whose consciousness is placed in the body of another person, letting her control them like a meat puppet to execute the hit. After each contract is completed, Tasya has a debrief with her boss, Girder (Jennifer Jason Lee), where she identifies an assortment of objects and explains their significance, to make sure that her core personality and sanity remain intact. It’s a fascinating premise for a film, and feels very much of Cronenberg senior’s oeuvre, particularly the second half of Videodrome. That’s not to say Brandon is aping his old man’s style whole cloth, but there’s certainly an element of homage at play here.

Andrea Riseborough (Death of Stalin, Mandy) is an utterly compelling lead. Is she doing possessor work out of necessity or does she genuinely enjoy the killing? This question hangs over most of the film, and as her behaviour becomes increasingly cruel and abstract, heady themes of empathy and identity are explored. Christopher Abbott (It Comes at Night, Piercing) also does very solid work as Colin Tate, Tasya’s latest possessee, who seems to have within him the ability to fight back. However, the star of the show here is Brandon Cronenberg’s assured, stylish direction. While less focused on body horror than you might expect for a film of this type, Possessor’s dissection of the self, and the nature of individuality, offers up a cerebral cocktail flavoured with a decent amount of graphic sex and violence, that entertains as much as it disturbs.

Possessor is a well shot slice of sci-fi horror that is all too rare at the cinema these days. While certainly influenced by his father, Brandon Cronenberg makes the subject matter his own and delivers a film that is both visceral and thoughtful, with an uncompromising, chilling tone. And while David Cronenberg appears to have given up the directing caper, it’s pleasing to see the 2.0 version very much bringing the goods. Dare we say it: long live the new flesh.

Deleted scenes are included exclusively on the blu-ray disc:
•    heightened world: The look of Possessor
•    Identity crisis: Bringing Possessor to life
•    The joy of practical: The effects of Possessor.
•    Short film by Brandon Cronenberg.

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The Witch of Kings Cross

Australian, Documentary, Home, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Socialite artist Rosaleen Norton shattered 1950s Australian conversative customs with her scandalous paintings that combined explicit nudity with the occult.

Her story has been unveiled by director Sonia Bible through a painstaking seven-year process. Bible self-financed the majority of the film, uncovering rarely seen artwork banned at the time for its subversive content.

Although Norton’s paintings caused consternation within Australia, her undeniable artistic talent was shamefully ignored. The documentary explores the philosophical themes present in her work, such as Carl Jung, as well as worshipping the Pagan God Pan. The tragedy, however, concerns how all cultural institutions refused to showcase any of her work, largely on account of her orgiastic parties and rambunctious lifestyle that drew the ire of newspapers and the wider community.

Given the paucity of resources and information available on the artist, director Sonia Bible films recreated footage in rich black and white that manifests the vivid imagination of Norton. It is also accompanied by choregraphed dance sequences in slow motion, whereby the actors give compelling physical performances that offer insight into Norton’s enigmatic mind.

Understandably, the limited primary knowledge available gives little alternative but to utilise these recreated scenes. Though, at times, it feels like the documentary leans too heavily on filmic flourishes, that it loses a sense of focus. It is also clear that these narrative scenes are filmed in modern-day Australia, with a black and white filter added over the top, which does not always capture the essence of a stultifying 1950s Australia.

At the same time, Norton’s unwavering conviction to follow her creative passions, often at the expense of others, invokes a femme fatale quality about her. A line-up of close acquaintances and art historians supplement the sense of danger Norton elicited in Sydney at the time, describing in detail her fetishes and interests, as well as the broader reactions to her public persona.

The Witch of Kings Cross is a unique story that looks and feels rough but ultimately reveals a fascinating gem of Australian post-war history that was previously consigned to the dustbin of history.

Head to the website for more information.


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Dark Whispers: Volume 1

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“Horror is a woman’s genre,” author Grady Hendrix opined in his fabulous book, Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ‘70s and ‘80s Horror Fiction, “and it has been all the way back to the oldest horror novel.” The ambitiously titled Dark Whispers: Volume 1 certainly agrees with this notion, offering ten horror stories directed by women (with an eleventh wraparound segment weaving the whole caper together) and the result is a mixed bag but with definite highlights.

Dark Whispers: Volume 1’s thin wraparound yarn is about a woman named Clara (Andrea Demetriades) who has inherited her mum’s Book of Dark Whispers. She cracks the tome to have a squiz, and we’re off to the races. What follows are ten short films that veer wildly in terms of quality, and have no real connective tissue other than they were helmed by women.

Highlights include The Man Who Caught a Mermaid (dir. Kaitlin Tinker) – about a bloke who does what’s on the tin but there’s a great twist, Grillz (dir. Lucy Gouldthorpe) – a very modern take on a vampire tale, The Intruder (dir. Janine Hewitt) – which stars Asher Keddie (Offspring) and features a neatly subverted story, Gloomy Valentine (dir. Isabel Peppard) – a striking stop motion animated work of gothic gloom and Watch Me (dir. Briony Kidd) – a lush mood piece that evokes David Lynch in full-on bizarro mode.

The problem is, these films feel like what they are: a loosely assembled collection of genre shorts stuck together. This gives the entire piece a disjointed feeling that never quite coalesces into a cohesive whole and makes the pacing feel clunky somehow.

The concept of a female-only anthology isn’t new. The superior XX did it back in 2017, and while it’s definitely a creatively laudable exercise, Dark Whispers: Volume 1 doesn’t quite stick the landing. Still, if you find yourself in the mood for a few creepy shorts, and want to support women in the arts, this may provide modest thrills.