Jess Turner, Ross Perkins, Aaron Patrick
…manages to breathe life into a genre that’s been on its last death rattle for some time and does so with a hell of a lot of confidence.
Found footage movies are considered by many to be a relatively easy go-to for the independent filmmaker. At least, that can be the takeaway if you digest the vast quantity that are released each year. Since the days of The Blair Witch Project (and before that), everyone and his dog has had a crack at some shaky cam narrative; making its way into episodes of Doctor Who (Sleep No More), the Paranormal Activity franchise, numerous Asylum knock offs of said franchise (Paranormal Entity), and even faith based movies centred around the evils of pornography (2014’s The Trap). Most, if not all of them, nailing their colours to the mast of some kind of supernatural vessel.
Australian film Mad House, directed by Ross Perkins, can certainly rub shoulders with its horror counterparts. At least initially, when you look at the brief: a well-off banker and his family are home invaded by a trio of methheads looking to grab some serious cash. Cass (Jess Turner), Wes (Perkins again) and Bryce (Aaron Patrick) bully and torture the family in the hopes of striking big. Those who have seen, or are aware of James Cullen Bressack’s Hate Crime, which purports to be the found footage of a family being needlessly harassed by skin heads, may have already declared a loud ‘no, thank you’ and moved elsewhere. But come closer, reader, for Mad House has moments that outshine its torture porn possibilities.
Using a pinched smartphone to capture their crimes, seemingly because they’re not too quick on the uptake that this can all be used as evidence, the device slowly becomes a comfort blanket to the gang as they realise that they might be in over their heads. As the minutes turn into hours into days, Perkins pulls out choice little moments to make you – gasp – care for the motley crew.
A standout scene centres around Cass, a former socialite fallen on hard times, who uses the phone as a confessional to her unborn child; encouraging him not to trod the path she has. When Wes’ fate grows ever worse, the phone becomes his diary to record what he sees as his final days. It’s not only a way to get us to know these people, but it acts as a handy way of explaining away why everyone is recording every bloody thing that happens – something which curses every found footage film ever.
Obviously, your mileage will vary with this kind of emotional mugging. Your thoughts and prayers should be focused on the harassed family after all. However, it’s a credit to the writer/director that he’s tried to craft humans out of what could easily just have been played as feckless drug takers, the like of which would make the Herald Sun shake their fists at a cloud. Equally, Perkins, Turner and Patrick turn in performances that never stray into Housos territory. Sure, they are going to do some terrible things before our time together is over, but spoilers: real people do real bad things sometimes.
Starting slowly but finding its pace once all the players are on the stage, Mad House manages to breathe life into a genre that’s been on its last death rattle for some time and does so with a hell of a lot of confidence.
Prime Video: http://bit.ly/primemad