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Entries in Monster Fest (2)

Saturday
Nov182017

LOST GULLY ROAD: THE DONNA MCRAE INTERVIEW

MONSTER FEST 2017: The great horror films, works that linger in the minds and hearts of genre fans, are those that have meaning, convey a message, confront truths. Writer/director Donna McRae’s Lost Gully Road establishes a classic ‘cabin in the woods’ premise; a lone heroine (Adele Perovic) in a secluded location, an unseen menace threatening her, physically and psychologically. But McRae, a Lecturer in Film & Television at Deakin University when not behind the camera, wanted to confront the very nature of violence against women within her genre setting. The shoot was isolated and McRae’s depiction of domestic brutality, unflinching. “I think that this was the only way to do it,” the director told SCREEN-SPACE, ahead of the World Premiere of Lost Gully Road at Monster Fest on November 25….

SCREEN-SPACE: Lost Gully Road adheres to an Australian cinematic tradition via its contemporary spin on the 'haunted country home' genre. What are the films, books and art that influenced the project?

MCRAE (pictured, above): A sub-genre of recent independent horror films has been the secluded house by the lake, or deep in the forest, as a site for psychological upheaval. Films like Honeymoon (2014) or Shelley (2016) use this trope well – the seclusion, the claustrophobia and the landscape. The Australian Gothic is fascinating, and I think the landscapes rather than films from here are influences, although I loved the elegant simplicity of Lake Mungo (2008) and Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) and The Babadook (2014).  The presumed quiet of the bush is something that intrigues me. We scouted for locations in The Dandenongs frequently. It’s so cinematic but offers an uneasy feeling of one step wrong and you are lost. There is a sense of concealment; unlike the outback where you can see what is coming, in the forest one never knows what is out there. Having said this, some of my favourite films are the older ones that use the house as character, such as The Haunting (1963), The Innocents (1961) and, strangely, The Ghost and Mrs Muir (1947).    

SCREEN-SPACE: A key thematic concern is how the past continues to haunt the present. Why is your film specifically, and the horror genre in general, so effective in dealing with grief and memory?

MCRAE: I have always been interested in ghosts and haunting. In fact my Phd was on (cinema) ghosts and memory. I feel that they are inextricably linked. The horror genre, or its subgenre the ‘ghost film’, is a fantastic place to delve into this area as it offers an arena to present many levels of an idea. You can represent grief or memory as a ghost, which, depending on which way the story goes, can be loving, traumatic or very nasty. So it is no wonder that this genre is so inventive. (Pictured, right; a scene from Lost Gully Road) 

SCREEN-SPACE: Your casting of Adele Perovic (pictured, below) catches her primed for her first feature lead role. How close was she to the 'Lucy' that you and writer Michael Vale envisioned, and what did she bring to the characterisation?

MCRAE: I had seen Adele on television, and was struck with the immediacy of her performance. When we first spoke, she came across as the embodiment of our character – a millennial that was smart, aware of the world around her but with her own point of view. We only had two weeks to shoot so we had no rehearsal time scheduled, [yet] Adele gave the most naturalistic performance, which I doubt would have been possible if we had tried to rehearse. She put herself in the character’s shoes and just went with it. It was a textbook study of an actor producing truth.  It was important to us all that she remain ‘in the moment’, to make decisions for her character, and I would only interfere if I wasn’t seeing it in the monitor. It was risky, but having trained as an actor myself, I know how hard acting is on a film set, so I was happy to take the risk.  My DOP Laszlo Baranyai is a great believer in letting the actor do what they need to do and then we shoot it. Laszlo and I had days of script conversations, so by the time we got to the set, we had made many decisions. He just got on with his department and I concentrated on the performance. I did have my favourite scenes though in my head, like the one where she walks down the corridor with a camping lantern. I wanted it a particular way, so I very much led those.

SCREEN-SPACE: Violence and horror films go hand-in-hand, of course, but your use of violence is not exploitative or gratuitous. What functionality does your depiction of violence serve?

MCRAE: I needed to get my point across. I wanted to show a disintegration of trust and the complications of when no means no. It is a film about random and domestic violence and I saw no point tiptoeing around that. I made choices about how it would be done; I didn’t want to make it a typical ‘cinema’ depiction of domestic violence. As a female filmmaker I found it hard to write these scenes but they were connected to the story so they needed to be in there. These were the only scenes that we rehearsed with a stunt co-ordinator and we were very careful to make it seem real. The fact that Adele does it all by herself is amazing. (Pictured, above; the director, on location).

SCREEN-SPACE: The final frames hint at the cyclical nature of violence against women and the inevitability of those actions. Is that the message you hope audiences will take from the film?

MCRAE: The primary message that I want to get across is that no means no. It doesn’t mean yes but I’m just being coy, it means I’m not interested and please stop. Women’s actions should never be misconstrued. And yes, the last frames of the film do reflect the cyclical nature of violence against women. But there is also another aspect, and that is the enablers of this violence. I don’t want to give the story away but there are lessons to be learned here – and I have seen it time and time again – people let things slide because of connections.

LOST GULLY ROAD will have its World Premiere on Saturday November 25 as part of Monster Fest 2017. Ticket and session details can be found at the official festival website

Saturday
Nov052016

PREVIEW: MONSTER FEST 2016

There was once a time when dabbling in the horror genre or grabbing a paycheck for some tawdry ‘B-thriller’ suggested an actor’s status was on the slide. One only need skim the star power on offer at Monster Fest 2016 to know that the richest characters and most compelling narratives in contemporary film exist amongst international cult cinema’s weird and wonderfully eclectic palette.

Newly appointed festival director Kier-La Janisse has adhered to a half-decade of high standards and festival traditions, topping and tailing the fifth edition of the four-day event with two of the year’s hottest horror titles. Opening night honours have been bestowed upon Julia Ducournau’s Raw (read the SCREEN-SPACE review here), the teen-cannibal shocker that has left a trail of rattled audiences since scoring the FIPRESCI Prize at Cannes in May; closing out the programme will be Jim Hosking’s The Greasy Strangler, a bona-fide cult sensation that The New York Times noted, “overflows with extravagant flatulence, frenzied gore and preposterous copulation.”

Audiences drawn to name talent will seek out the frenzied gunplay of Free Fire, a collaboration between director Ben Wheatley, producer Martin Scorsese and the dream cast of Oscar winner Brie Larsen (pictured, top), Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer and Australia’s own Noah Taylor (also fronting Nick Jongerius’ backpacker slasher pic The Windmill Massacre); Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch in The Autopsy of Jane Doe, the gory mortuary-set English language debut of Troll Hunter director André Øvredal; and, Patrick Wilson, Jim Belushi, Ian McShane and an unhinged John Leguizamo in Spanish auteur Gonzalo López-Gallego’s bloody neo-western-noir, The Hollow Point (pictured, right).

Also certain to sell tickets are director Paul Schrader’s insanely anarchic Dog Eat Dog, a blackly comic crime thriller that stars Willem Dafoe and Nicholas Cage; Virginia Madsen and Patrick Warburton in Chris Peckover’s Yuletide home-invasion thriller, Safe Neighbourhood; a masterfully maniacal lead turn by Natasha Lyonne, opposite an against-type Chloe Sevigny as her trailer–trash bestie, in Danny Perez’s paranoid fever-dream, Antibirth (trailer, above); and good ol’ boy icon Burt Reynolds in documentarian Jesse Moss’ The Bandit, an adoring insider’s take on the late director Hal Needham and his 1977 blockbuster, Smokey and The Bandit.

The industry respect afforded Melbourne’s premiere genre showcase has meant the presence of international guests is all but assured. In 2016, the big draw is Ted Kotcheff, one of Hollywood’s most revered and respected directors. In addition to an ‘In Conversation’ event with director and genre expert Mark Hartley, Kotcheff will present rare screenings of some of his most enduring works, including the Australian classic Wake in Fright (1971); the iconic Sylvester Stallone thriller, First Blood (1982; pictured, right, Stallone and Kotcheff on-set); the cult favourite, Weekend at Bernie’s (1989); and, a digitally-restored print of his little-seen ‘religious cult’ drama, Split Image (1982), featuring Peter Fonda, Michael O’Keefe and Karen Allen.

In addition to Raw director Julia Ducournau and the stars of The Greasy Strangler, Michael St Michaels and Sky Elobar, guest attendees include director Neil Edwards, fronting for the Australian debut of his documentary Sympathy for The Devil: The True Story of The Process Church of The Final Judgement; Lao filmmaker Mattie Do, director of Dearest Sister, and the only woman to date to helm a feature film in her homeland; director Matthew Holmes and key cast members from the Australian bushranger saga, The Legend of Ben Hall (trailer, below); veteran producer Anthony I. Ginnane (Turkey Shoot, 1982; Thirst, 1979; Harlequin, 1980), who will front the panel, ‘Australia After Dark: Tales from The Golden Age of Ozploitation’; Jai Love, the young director of Dead Hands Dig Deep, a moving profile of 90s alt-music great, Kettle Cadaver frontman Edwin Borsheim; and Evrim Ersoy, festival programmer of the Texan genre event, Fantastic Fest.

Alongside the screening schedule, the sidebar Monster Academy will present a series of panels and Q&As, several of which offer free admission. In addition to the Ted Kotcheff talk, events will include a panel of women directors and festival programmers discussing ‘Genre Matters: Women Genre Filmmakers’; exploring the ins-&-outs of film festival strategizing, curating and presenting in Film Festival 101; and, a retrospective look at genre on the small-screen, including rare screenings of the Australian anthology series The Evil Touch, a witchcraft-themed episode of 70s cop drama, Homicide, the British ‘real life’ haunted house telemovie Ghost Watch, and a legitimate appraisal of the role of the supernatural in soap operas, called ‘Diedre Hall is The Devil’.

Monster Pictures boss Neil Foley will himself front one of the highlights of the week when filmmaker Geoffrey Wright leads an evening of 25th anniversary recollections of his controversial classic Romper Stomper, in which a young Foley had a small role as a skinhead neo-Nazi.

Monster Fest runs November 24-27 at the Lido Cinema in Hawthorn; Monster Academy runs at several venues from November 23-24. All session and ticketing information at the official website.