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Wednesday
Jul042012

THOSE WHO KILL: SHADOWS OF THE PAST

Stars: Laura Bach, Jakob Cedergren, Simon Kvamm, Lars Mikkelsen, Lars Ranthe, Lærke Winther and Frederik Meldal Nørgaard.
Writers: Morten Dragsted and Siv Rajendram Eliassen.
Director: Birger Larsen

REVELATIONS FILM FESTIVAL Screenings – Sun July 8, 3.30pm; Sun July 14, 2.30pm.

Rating: 3.5/5


A polished, workmanlike police procedural that pulls off familiar tropes with clarity and tense momentum, Those Who Kill: Shadows of the Past is enlivened by its contemporary Copenhagen setting, above-par genre acting and frank gore.

The occasional narrative diversion from the well-trodden path most often taken by serial killer thrillers is enough to give this big-screen airing of one of Denmark’s most popular small-screen properties a focus that mostly compels to the inevitable showdown, which is executed with aplomb.

After a horribly riveting opening sequence aboard a bus, the film settles into a steady stream of clichés that are played very broadly; one gets the feeling that the entire first act is an overplayed set-up that the director Birger Larsen, a veteran of the TV series, is more than eager to subvert.

Thomas (Jakob Cedergren) is a divisional psychiatrist easing through his last couple of days with the force before a new job in the safer world of psychology academia. It is a pay upgrade that ensures his beautiful wife Mia (Lærke Winther) and son Johan (Benjamin Brüel von Klitzing) can buy that dream house (see what I mean about clichés….?). His partner is Katrine (the striking and strong Laura Bach), a hardbitten cop despite her young age who can’t believe her partner would leave ‘the life’.

After some perfunctory forensic work - the speedy, simple kind often associated with frivolous hour-long ‘CSI’-type shows - it emerges that the bus massacre was the work of Kristian Almen (a truly menacing Simon Kvamm), an ex-patient of Thomas’ not long out of incarceration. The film follows a well-worn path up to this point but soon discrepancies appear in the plotting that spin the film in unexpected directions. And not a moment too soon, frankly; an hour in and my attention was wavering, but the third act is a corker.

Filled with the kind of cop-shop banter and action brio most often associated with mid-range Hollywood programmers, Those Who Kill: Shadows of the Past finds a freshness that comes from its international cast and continental flavours, rather than anything aesthetically or structurally ground-breaking. Perhaps best recalling David Fincher’s Se7en or, more recently, Jonas Åkerlund’s Dennis Quaid starrer Horseman in its willingness to wallow in some supremely visceral physical horror undercut with themes of regret and painful redemption, Larsen’s film doesn’t reach high enough to carry any importance but nor does it fall short of its ambitions to be a solidly dark-natured mystery-thriller.

Wednesday
Jul042012

BUFF

Features: David Stratton, Margaret Pomeranz, Richard Sowada, Jack Sargeant, Peter Rowsthorne, Alan Stiles, Simon Miraudo, Mark Naglazas, Anita Krsnik, Madeline Bates, Jimmy Jack, Stephen Sunderland, Danielle Marsland and Rob Denham.
Writers/Directors: Gavin Bond and Ian Abercromby

REVELATIONS FILM FESTIVAL Screening – Sun July 15, 9.15pm.

Rating: 3/5


A sweet if inconsequential celebration of what educated film types love most about movies, watching Buff is like joining a table of film nerds at a pub and trying to keep up. Which most true ‘buffs’ will do effortlessly, of course; there’s nothing particularly revelatory about anything anyone says, except perhaps exhibition legend Alan Stiles admission that his guilty pleasure is the Troma Studio's 1987 schlock Z-grader, Surf Nazis Must Die. Didn’t see that one coming!

The collated talking heads are all respected voices from most arenas in the world of cinema. They include festival directors (including Revelations own Richard Sowada and Jack Sargeant), new-Gen online critics, actors, scholars and, of course, the ubiquitous ‘David and Margaret’.

Their contributions are in the form of rather straightforward answers to the sort of questions anyone might ask should they be seated next to them at a dinner party – What’s your favourite film? What’s your favourite scene? What’s your least favourite movie? What’s your favourite line? Responses don’t surprise for the most part, but watching the joy with which these commited cinephiles speak about their passion is endearing. (The one exception may be Sargeant, who will put Generation X’ers offside with his hateful dissing of the collected works of the great John Hughes. What the hell!?!)

Directors Gavin Bond and Ian Abercromby (who get Screen-Space onside from the opening scenes, in which they wax lyrical about a personal fave, The Pope of Greenwich Village) were part of the creative team behind the rough-around-the-edges public-access film show Flicktease for close to decade. Their spirited japery, combined with their own buff-ness, is part of the film’s charm (ageing fans will enjoy seeing some footage of the Teaser team in their prime). Less successful are the part-recitations/part-improvised skits that actors Sam Longley and Damon Lockwood perform to provide bridging moments between the natter. Perhaps they exist in lieu of the production’s inability to afford copyright fees on scene clips, though Buff is peppered with movie moments, so that can’t be entirely true.

Given not all contributors are instantly recognisable and some have a less than compelling onscreen presence, Buff feels a little stretched even at 62 minutes. With no particularly stringent point to be made, the ‘I love this!/I hate this!’ to-and-fro wears thin. That said, it is still a joy to get an insight into the generational influence that films have had, to hear that films as diverse as El Cid and Working Girl had the same profound impact on the hearts and minds of those of us sharing a lifelong love affair with the movies. As love stories go, it is one to which many of us can relate.

Monday
Jul022012

WONDER WOMEN! THE UNTOLD STORY OF AMERICAN SUPERHEROINES

Features: Lynda Carter, Lindsay Wagner, Gloria Steinem, Jane Espenson, Kathleen Hanna, Mike Madrid, Andy Mangels, Shelby Knox and Katie Pineda.
Writer/Director: Kristy Guevara-Flanagan

REVELATIONS FILM FESTIVAL Screening – Thur July 12, 7.15pm; Sun July 15, 7.30pm

Rating: 4/5

 

Though no one will feel short-changed by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan’s enriching, inspiring doco Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines, there is a lingering regret that the whole thing is wrapped in a tight 62 minutes. Not because I felt that there was more to be said; more that I didn’t want it to end.

The film’s main aim is to highlight the crucial role that superheroine characters have played in pop culture, with specific reference to the supporting and forwarding of women’s issues. Taking as its focus the development and representation of artist William Moulton Marston’s iconic amazon princess, Diana of Themyscira, aka Wonder Woman, since her creation 70 years ago, the film also warmly recalls the impact of such favourites as The Bionic Woman, Charlies Angels, Sarah Connor, Ellen Ripley, Buffy Summers, Dana Scully and Thelma and Louise.

The film fascinates on this level, chronicling how panel-pages (and, subsequently, the big and small screens) have reflected the prevailing mood towards women. Created at the height of the 1940’s war effort, when women were keeping the home fires burning in non-traditional roles, Wonder Woman was a fierce, independent figure; by the 1950’s, with the men back home and the ladies pushed into domestic servitude, Wonder Woman became a weaker figure. It was not until the emergence of the women’s liberation movement in the 1960s did she regain her strength and take on symbolic pertinence.

Guevara-Flanagan’s collection of scholars, pop-artists and empowerment advocates (notably the always quotable Gloria Steinem) give fascinating insight, their accounts peppered with personal recollections and humour. Accompanying the talking heads are a geek’s dream collection of historical comic-book covers, scene clips and convention floor opinions.

But the most profound achievement of Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines is captured in the scenes of the young girls and working class mums who look to the superheroines to establish values and overcome hardships. If it was the production’s intention to finally kill-off any non-believers who still consider the fantasy genre a worthless artform peopled by slackers dodging a real life, it is a goal achieved. The deeply human role our mythical figures continue to fulfil in our society, on many levels, is honoured triumphantly.

Monday
Jul022012

THE CARETAKER

Stars: Lee Mason, Mark White, Colin MacPherson, Anna Burgess, Kerri-Anne Baker and Clint Dowdell.
Writer / Director: Tom Conyers

REVELATIONS FILM FESTIVAL Screening - Sat July 14, 11.10pm.

Rating: 2/5


Clearly inspired by the small-town setting and big genre vision of The Spierig Brothers’ 2003 surprise horror hit Undead, Tom Conyers’ bloodsucker-uprising flick The Caretaker looses sight of the inherent sense of fun that made that dusty Ozploitation shocker such a hoot. Instead, we get a pretty dour bunch of unlikable stereotypes trapped in an overwrought melodrama with lofty ambitions it never attains.

There is little wrong with the film from a production perspective, despite what is clearly a low-budget labour of love for the Melbourne-based filmmaker (he also EP’s and edits his debut feature). Images captured by cinematographer Matt Wood are crisp and often inventively framed; flavoursome set design, especially a sequence shot in a creepy cellar that doubles as a vamp lair, exhibits quality artistry. Gorehounds, despite having seen it all before, may still find merit in some of the more graphic stagings of vampire action.

Conceptually, the premise has merit. The group of misfits in a remote rural enclave taking a stand against an evil uprising is an old one (Romero’s Night of the Living Dead being the most obvious in this case), but of more interest is the device that posits a vampire-warrior type (a commanding Mark White) as their protector in a dark alliance that threatens to collapse as the pressure to survive mounts. Subplots, though, are meagre; the final reel twist, unconvincing and confusing.

The film’s greatest liability is the pretentious ambitions of the script, especially in a first act that sets in motion an underlying anger towards women that permeates the film. We meet anti-hero Ron (Lee Mason) as he delivers an impassioned, bitter diatribe (to a pub full of blokey best mates) against the unfairness of the modern divorce laws; the words exude an all-too-convincing mean-spiritedness (the speech recalls Tom Cruise’s pro-male empowerment rant in Magnolia).

Additionally, the sole female protagonist in the film, Annie (Anna Kate Burgess), is a snide princess who early on chides her loving partner, Guy (Clint Dowdell) despite his best efforts at romance. Her character’s devolution from a selfish shrew into a simpering victim does neither Burgess nor the film’s credibility any favours. Noteworthy also is that the film’s nastiest vampire baddies are almost exclusively women.

Conyers exhibits some deft touches with his lensing and pacing only to be undermined by his bloated and bitter script. One senses his time will come under a stronger producer’s guiding influence, working with a more seasoned and disciplined writer’s screenplay.

Friday
Jun292012

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN

Stars: Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Nick Frost, Toby Jones, Ray Winstone, Sam Claflin and Eddie Marsan.
Writers: Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini.
Director: Rupert Sanders

Rating: 3.5/5

An expansive retelling of the Brothers Grimm classic, Snow White and The Huntsman takes its most impactful beats from such post-modern literary adaptations as 1998s The Man in the Iron Mask and Peter Jackson’s …Rings trilogy, as well as vivid fantasy imaginings such as Willow and Ladyhawke. That it doesn’t really nail a flavour all its own is ok; it mimics the best bits of other movies so well, there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had even if none of it substantially resonates.

There are incongruities that should sink first-time director Rupert Sanders’ big, ballsy mash-up of feminine generational conflict and throne-room treachery. Kristen Stewart is both too old to convince as a virginal vision of purity and too small to be an armour-clad leader of misfit revolutionaries, but she makes it work; there’s a lean mid-section to the film that belies its meagre fairy tale origins, but the padding-out of these scenes is expertly done; and, as the evil witch-queen Raveena, who yearns to consume the essence of her fairer foe, Charlize Theron chews the scenery like a termite plague – and is all the more awesome for it.

An opening sequence that steeps the film in ruthless royal intrigue and murderous betrayal sets the tone for a narrative that may prove a little too dark for the wee ones who were enchanted by Disney’s “hi-ho-ing” animated take. A stepmother usurping the kingdom of a monarch she murders and imprisoning his princess, rightful heiress to the land, then existing in youthful perpetuity by sucking the rich soulfulness of her subjects certainly makes for a compelling set-up. But parents, beware; under 10’s will spend more of the 125 minute running time averting their eyes than you may have expected.

As a blossoming Snow White, It-girl Stewart affords us glimpses of the compelling screen actress she is destined to become. Her strong presence and china-doll bone-structure recalling a young Nicole Kidman, she exudes a teary innocence in the film’s early stages before transforming into a warrior princess. One can’t dismiss her mousiness – she is definitely not physically right for the role – but it is impossible not to be compassionate for her plight, so engaging is her star power. As The Huntsman, Chris Hemsworth confidently continues his ascension to stardom, his brawniness recalling a young, in-his-prime Nick Nolte.

Tech credits, especially the work of the visual effects team, are superlative. The morphing of full-size actors such as Ray Winstone, Bob Hoskins, Eddie Marsan, Nick Frost and Toby Jones into a feisty band of dwarves is seamless; an extended sequence set in a fantastical netherworld, whilst thin on plotting, is a sight to behold. Grandly-staged battle sequences that lead to the film’s denouement are suitably exciting.

Tuesday
Jun262012

DESPITE THE GODS

Writer/Director: Penny Jovniak

Rating: 4/5


A tightly wound American film director thrust into the Eastern cultural maelstrom that is modern India sounds like a wacky comedy borne out of a Studio City pitch-meeting. But Penny Jovniak’s Despite The Gods is most definitely not a comedy; in fact, it’s a daunting character study of an artist racked by her own insecurities, instabilities and inabilities.

That the artist is the enigmatic Jennifer Lynch only adds fuel to the fiery personal and professional circumstances chronicled in Jovniak’s compelling work. On location in India in 2008 to film Nagin the Female Snake Goddess, the already controversial story of the overtly sexual mythical temptress, the abrasive, passionate Lynch clashes with…well, everybody in trying to get her modern horror/musical/pro-feminine vision to the screen.

As a study of a collaborative and expensive work of art spiralling out of control, Despite the Gods is as good an account of miscalculated filmmaking ambitions as Hearts of Darkness, Man of La Mancha and Full Tilt Boogie. Lynch, still best remembered in Hollywood for the debacle that would become Boxing Helena, pertinently draws comparisons between this, her third film (after the largely-unseen Surveillance), and the troubled production that was her father David’s mental undoing, Dune. Scenes in which she expresses deep-seated fears that her mind is headed down the same path as her fathers, whose breakdown she witnessed as a young girl, are very moving.

Yet the film attains its most profoundly insightful moments when it relates to Lynch single-parent status and the role her then 12 year-old daughter Sydney must play on location in India. ‘Syd’ is often called upon to act as her mother’s emotional crutch, whilst also struggling with the often cruelly sexist local attitudes. Jovniak (who developed the project while employed as Syd’s nanny) captures a complex, at times sadly lopsided dynamic between mother and daughter, the access to intimate moments and trust established with her subjects obvious.

Despite the Gods may be construed as a pro-feminist essay; Indian actress Mallika Sherawat emerges as the film’s strongest personality, defying traditional expectation both in the physically revealing role she plays and via the manner with which she deals with disrespectful crew members (notably producer Govind Menon). One of the many hurdles Lynch, Syd and, presumably, Jovniak strive to overcome is the general attitude towards a female being in charge.

But this wonderful film is about a great deal more. Lynch is a uniquely talented individual whose art both flourishes under and exponentially adds to her neuroses. Like Boxing Helena, the journey of her film (now retitled Hisss) to the big-screen is a far more entertaining story than the film itself. Here, the art serves as a starting point in the artist’s real journey and Jovniak captures that rocky road with a compassionate yet unflinching gaze.

Monday
Jun252012

SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED

Stars: Audrey Plaza, Jake M Johnson, Mark Duplass, Karan Soni, Jenica Bergere, Mary Lynn
Rajskub, Kristen Bell and Jeff Garlin.
Writer: Derek Connolly.
Director: Colin Trevorrow.

MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL Screenings - Fri 3 Aug, 9.00pm; Tue 14 Aug, 9.00pm.

Rating: 4.5/5


For all its cool, young key-demo sassiness and nimble use of the ‘snarky aside’ to get laughs, Colin Trevorrow’s Safety Not Guaranteed is a ultimately a big sooky dose of optimistic sentiment. The superbly-balanced tone of this sweet and sour outsider-romance is the real star of the San Francisco native’s feature debut, though breakout turns by on-the-cusp players Audrey Plaza and Jake M Johnson add to the film’s warm and wondrous sense of discovery.

The buzz began when Derek Connolly’s script picked up the prestigious Waldo Salt screenwriting prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It is a written work rich in character detail but one which allows the protagonists to develop at a measured rate; there are no grandly histrionic scenes or manufactured false notes, merely four witty, kind-of-sad somebodies whose lives intersect at a pivotal juncture in their personal growth.

It is the story of Kenneth (a sublime Mark Duplass), a small town supermarket clerk who places a classified ad seeking a partner to accompany him on a time-travel experiment. A Seattle tabloid sees it as a quirky human interest piece and dispatches cynical Jeff (Johnson) and two interns, Darius (Plaza) and Arnau (Karan Soni), to beef up the copy by providing some insight into the oddball’s back-story. Darius goes undercover, but soon becomes enamoured with Kenneth, whose nutty theories have also drawn the interest of some dark-suited G-men, the ironically-named Smith and Jones (Tony Doupe and Xola Malik, respectively).

Sci-fi buffs will derive immense enjoyment from the outward manifestations of Kenneth’s inner voice, writ large in easy-to-comprehend detail. Trevorrow has been open about his love of Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future, the epitome of comedy/drama/fantasy for a generation of filmgoers. Safety Not Guaranteed’s edgier moments of cynicism wouldn’t have played so charmingly back in 1985, but comparisons between the two films in terms of audience empathy and emotional involvement are spot-on. (When the film closed the recent Sydney Film Festival, the packed audience at the city’s grand State Theatre positively erupted with joy at the film’s final scenes).

The metaphors at work in Connolly’s script are no less endearing for being a little too obvious. Johnson’s Jeff travels to the backwoods township with small, narrow ambitions based on his past, whilst Duplass’ Kenneth seeks happiness by embracing the grand opportunities inherent to his vision. Fulfilment comes with self-belief and an assured sense of direction, back or forward. Trevorrow and his cast make this simple message particularly special; by yearning to travel across vast dimensions, they have captured the modern film narrative’s most elusive yet important one – depth.    

Friday
Jun222012

BRAVE

Voice-cast: Kelly McDonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd and Craig Ferguson.
Writers: Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman and Irene Mecchi.
Directors: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell.

Rating: 3/5


There is a fire in the belly of Princess Merida that burns as bright as her wild tangerine mane, but that passion never fully engulfs Brave, the expectedly wondrous new work from Pixar Studios.

Riffing on the notion that the heritage of the Scottish people is filled entirely with feuding clansfolk with horrible teeth who booze and fight as soon as eat and breathe, it is the combined vision of three animation veterans, steeped in both narrative and technical experience. Brenda Chapman’s star rose as part of Disney’s 90s heyday before she joined the start-up Dreamworks team (she last directed The Prince of Egypt); Mark Andrews is Pixar-based (the Oscar-nominated short, One Man Band) but did time at the short-lived WB Animation outfit (Osmosis Jones, The Iron Giant); Steve Purcell hails largely from a video-game and television background. Their last combined work was as script and story contributors on Cars.

This eclectic mix of experience and aesthetics may go some way to explaining why Brave never quite becomes the sum of its parts. Ostensibly a mother-daughter story in which both come to realise the importance of their womanly bond, Brave also weaves in ancient woodland mythology, fight-or-flight action thrills (littlies will get a jolt in some bear-attack moments), two rather perfunctory ‘Disney’-esque musical interludes and some broad comedic shtick (supplied by all the menfolk, none of whom have any bearing on the plot). It is all perfectly engaging, but is let down by characters who feel overly familiar. Largely absent from Brave is the absorbing family dynamic of The Incredibles, for example, which held our emotions as the visuals worked their magic.

If the script is unfocussed, the images that unfold are certainly not – Brave is a beautiful piece of modern animated art. Princess Merida’s corkscrew red hair is mesmerising to watch; one sequence, in which she scales a rock wall to taste of a sacred waterfall as the sun bathes the vast Scottish landscape, is truly breathtaking. Indoor sequences are a little less well-defined; the darkening effect of the 3D glasses reduces the clarity of the many candlelit scenes (some hurried action mid-movie is hard to follow). But overall, as we’ve come to expect from Pixar, the artform moves a further step ahead with Brave.

Highly-touted as the studio’s first female lead, the strength of spirit embodied in Merida (expressively voiced by a wonderful Kelly McDonald) keeps the film afloat when needed. Tweenage girls and their mums who have reluctantly sat through Cars 1 & 2 to appease Dad and the boys will love her energetic spunkiness and blossoming rebellious streak. It is frustrating that Brave does not ultimately honour her; it could have embraced its own moniker and the fearlessness of its lead and taken a few more risks.

Wednesday
Jun202012

SEEKING JUSTICE

Stars: Nicholas Cage, Guy Pearce, January Jones, Harold Perrineau, Jennifer Carpenter, Xander Berkeley, IronE Singleton and Jason Davis.
Writer: Robert Tannen.
Director: Roger Donaldson

Rating: 3/5


Despite growing increasingly preposterous as the minutes tick by, Roger Donaldson’s Seeking Justice is still at the high-end of star Nicholas Cage’s recent output. Though the star struggles to entirely convince as an everyman character, Cage’s current career phase hits a sort-of high with this New Orleans-set potboiler; whatever Guy Pearce or January Jones saw in their characters on the page, however, does not translate to the screen.

Cage plays Will Gerrard, a committed high-school teacher whose life turns upside down when his beautiful wife Laura (Jones) is brutally raped. Whilst sitting out her ordeal in the hospital waiting room, Will is approached by Simon (Pearce), who offers to correct the injustice done to their world. All Will need do is promise to repay the debt at some further point.

When Wil turns the table on his vigilante foes, convenience and circumstance all fall in his favour as they are prone to do in the world of B-movie star-vehicles. And there is an awful lot of B-movie pedigree in Seeking Justice. The premise is similar to the Richard Kelly’s The Box; the ‘secret assassin’ unit device was used in Peter Hyams’ The Star Chamber; and, a straight line can be drawn between Cage’s character here and his younger, tougher self in Simon West’s Con Air.  

But Donaldson and scripter Robert Tannen are clearly not out to reinvent the wheel with Seeking Justice (Clue #1, its blah-ly generic 1990s-style title). Their modus operandi is to give some well-worm tropes a good going-over and they largely succeed in their humble goals.

New Zealand-born Donaldson had a solid lock on undeniably daft but involving thrillers (No Way Out, White sands, The Getaway, Species, The Recruit ) before he peaked in 2005 with his passion project, The World’s Fastest Indian. He whirls his camera around corners and through speeding traffic with the solid but detached eye of an old pro; he appears to be doing his darndest to make sure his film could never be confused with any type of reality.

Which makes Cage his perfect leading man. The actor often seems to exist in a rarefied world, reacting with odd ticks and glowering facial expressions that are at first, incongruous with the scenario but which somehow gel with his director’s vision.

The time has certainly passed when critics can keep blathering on about how Cage’s current work compares to his meteoric emergence (Raising Arizona; Vampire’s Kiss; Moonstruck); that was thirty-odd years ago, and neither he (at close to 50) nor Hollywood make those sort of risky projects that thrive on A-list eccentricity. He seems determined to make the most of his Hollywood standing at present; if that all-too frequently leads to “WTF?” choices (Bangkok Dangerous; Trespass; Drive Angry; Season of the Witch; both Ghost Riders), it also occasionally yields a solidly enjoyable programmer, as is the case here.

Saturday
Jun162012

LIVID

Stars: Chloé Coulloud, Félix Moati, Jérémy Kapone, Catherine Jacob, Béatrice Dalle, Chloé Marcq and Marie-Claude Pietragalla.
Writers/Directors: Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury.

REVELATIONS FILM FESTIVAL Screenings – Sat 7 Jun 10.45pm.

Rating: 1.5/5


Having crafted one of the great French horror works in 2007s Inside, Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury tackle the haunted house/vampire genre with far less apparent alacrity in their follow-up, Livid. Pompous, over-stylised gaudiness and seen-it-all-before frights inspired far more giggles than gasps amongst the late night crowd at the Sydney Film Festival screening; the title may best sum up the reaction of full-price paying patrons.

Whereas Inside was a standard home-invasion thriller amped-up by bravado filmmaking and all-or-nothing physical horror, Livid tarts up a grab-bag of supernatural/kids-in-peril B-movie clichés with an arty pretension that grates. The film’s lofty thematic ambitions are to explore memory, longing, the corrosive effect of secrets and the avenging of cruel injustices, but only the most easily-pleased horror aficionado could claim Bustillo and Maury examine these with any insight.

Young trainee-nurse Lucie (a likable Chloé Coulloud) is taken by her bitter mentor Catherine (Catherine Jacob) to the dusty, shadowy mansion of bed-bound, comatosed crone Madame Jessel (Marie-Claude Pietragalla). The once-grand estate is in disrepair, the ambience of the house filled with remnants of past lives, notably a rather disgusting collection of taxidermied animals (the suit-wearing, tea-drinking giant catfish got the biggest laugh). Lucie learns that the house was not only once a dance studio run by Jessel, but also that her sizable, long-forgotten loot is hidden somewhere in its myriad of rooms.

Spurred on by boozy courage, Lucie’s obnoxious boyfriend William (Félix Moati) and his brother Benjamin (Jérémy Kapone) break into the house to acquire said booty, but don’t bargain on Madame Jessel’s waken state or the ‘children of the night’ that still remain entombed in the home’s walls. The trio become separated; the men act like imbeciles, thereby ensuring their demise (a spoiler? I think not, so predictable is the films plodding pacing). Only Lucie, who has kept her head whilst others loose theirs, can deduce the actions required to calm the spirits of the home and free herself from their grasp.

Flashbacks to dance-hall days when the home was sanctuary to teen-vampire ballerinas (read that again....) are so grandly realised as to resemble modern-day perfume commercials. Scenery-chewing emoting from all but Coulloud, who seems more bemused than frightened, ensures Livid never fully convinces. The bloated seriousness and shallow artifice applied by Bustillo and Maury nixes any hint of the self-knowing irony that the film needed (a flaw it shares with Tony Scott’s 1983 sexy-vampire pic, The Hunger, a film it closely resembles).

In fact, Livid shares much with any number of past horror standards. Euro-horror fans will spot stock-standard giallo references from Argento’s and Bava’s oeuvres; there are hints of gothic haunted-house classics such as The Others and The Innocents. But Livid has nothing to offer of its own, save a suffocating sense overtly art-designed set-pieces and a particularly nonsensical finale. It is film that doesn’t convey great film horror but instead tries hard to manufacture and sell it.