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The Innocents

Horror, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Every child is a blessing; That is unless they are a character in a horror film.

From The Omen (1976) to just about every Stephen King adaptation, spooky kids are as much of a staple in horror storytelling as roaring chainsaws and black cats.

Continuing this eerie trope – expressing how youngsters are shaped by their upbringing – is the impressively crafted Norwegian thriller, The Innocents (De uskyldige)

In writer-director Eskil Vogt’s (most notable for co-writing the screenplay for The Worst Person in the World (2021)) cinematic contraceptive, kids are not only magically gifted but are out for blood.

It is holiday time for the children of Norway, with the youngsters who remain at a colourless apartment complex – surrounded by beguiling woodland – coming from households who work the hardest to make ends meet. When Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) – a nine-year-old with a penchant for outdoors and overalls – and her family arrive, the once unassuming location begins to crack under the suddenly activated supernatural pressures.

Ida’s older sister, Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), is the most indomitable, with her psychic abilities rivalling that of any character from the MCU. The siblings spend their days exploring the grounds with neighbours Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim) and Benjamin (Sam Ashraf), indulging in light-hearted telekinesis and telepathy (as kids do). It is Benjamin who proves the most high-strung of the bunch, with Vogt correlating his hardships – coming through the form of bullying and abuse at home – with his psychopathic tendencies. It is when he is ridiculed that the playfulness stops, with the film’s antics shifting from playfulness to violent acts of aggression.

Understanding that Benjamin has gone too far, the children unite to thwart his bloody vengeance, using their abilities to dispel whatever innocence the film’s title, ironically, implies they have.

Vogt is a subtle filmmaker that works the long game when it comes to establishing atmosphere. He utilises a subtle score and warm visuals to create a palpable feeling of unease. Even when bones break and the blood spills, Vogt never deviates from this understated delivery. That said, some scenes do struggle under the hammy manner in which powers are executed, with shots of strained faces on screen for arduous periods draining the tension of the scene. Performance wise, Vogt has assembled an impressive cast of actors, with particular praise for the leading sister pairing.

Vogt’s thriller is a sterling example of a harrowing atmosphere at its most subdued. The saying goes that you should never work with children or animals, and The Innocents will have you believe that this is not because of an incapability to follow instruction but to avoid all chances of triggering their supernatural potential.

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Trailer: Interceptor

Co-writer/director Matthew Reilly has waited a long time to have one of his visions on the screen, ultimately resorting to an original screenplay (as opposed to an adaptation of one of his bestselling potboilers) for this Australian-shot thriller starring Elsa Pataky and Luke Bracey.
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Trailer: Fresh

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Trailer: Deep Water

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Trailer: No Exit

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Gold

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

Australian cinema has a rich legacy of survival stories, especially when it comes to stranding foreigners in the unsympathetic wilderness of our unforgiving outback. And while newly minted Gold continues this distinctly Australian sub-genre, alongside the likes of Wake in Fright, Cargo, the recent limited series The Tourist, etc., its director Anthony Hayes has managed to craft a nerve-wracking survival legend that is at once compelling, visceral and utterly unique in its own clogging ether of desperation and despair. And, one could argue, imbued with a refinement expected from a filmmaker with far more experience in a director’s chair than Hayes can lay credit to (short feature New Skin (2002), Ten Empty (2008)).

Gold rides upon a simple enough premise: two unnamed strangers – a gruff seasoned guide and his traumatised passenger – set out across a desert landscape to a location innocuously referred to as The Compound. However, when their truck breaks down, the passenger happens upon a massive gold nugget, embedded in the desolate plains.

After a brief discussion on the risks of being stranded alone in the desert, it is decided the guide will leave his passenger behind to guard the rare metal from potential scavengers while he heads out to a settlement in order to retrieve an excavator to help unearth their find.

Set in a post-apocalyptic landscape of an Australian Outback reeling in the wake of massive environmental collapse, Hayes has crafted a perceptive survival saga which gracefully skims the trappings of a blunt morality tale, instead taking a deliberate and subtle approach to the exploration of pivotal themes such as greed, violence, and the inherent cruelty of human nature, all under pretence of his wider survival narrative.

Hayes’ most inspired play is his casting of Zac Efron as the film’s lead, with the Californian delivering a performance both exceptional and affecting. In fact, Efron’s turn as the unnamed foreigner stranded in the isolated outback to guard a chunk of metal, is essential to the film’s intensity and integrity, with the Bad Neighbours actor filling every frame with an unnerving, creeping dread that deliberately escalates alongside his physical decline at the hands of the environment.

While Efron’s performance is striking, it would be remiss not to also acknowledge the work of cinematographer Ross Giardina, who captures the bleak Australian landscape with a blistering clarity and authenticity that resonates with ominous beauty, while Hayes himself, alongside an almost unrecognisable Susie Porter, add an intriguing distraction as two, again unnamed, desert dwellers navigating their own paths in the deadly plains of the wastelands.

Lensed with a chromatic starkness, elevated by a harsh soundscape of crawling insects, buzzing flies and various elemental threats, Gold is undeniably the kind of cinema that demands you experience it. And Hayes, who also penned the script with his partner Polly Smyth, has managed to morph these various, unpalatable elements into a darkly compelling, richly satisfying film.

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