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Entries in Horror Film (5)

Friday
Sep092016

I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER

Stars: Max Records, Christopher Lloyd, Laura Fraser, Karl Geary, Lucy Lawton, Bruce Bohne, Matt Roy and Dee Noah.
Writers: Billy O’Brien and Christopher Hyde, based upon the novel by Dan Wells.
Director: Billy O’Brien

Rating: 4/5

The ‘teenage American Gothic’ ambience of Dan Wells’ young-adult novel I Am Not a Serial Killer is recaptured with an occasionally morbid yet invigorating cadence in director Billy O’Brien’s bracingly icky, hugely entertaining adaptation.

In equal measure a small-town murder mystery, alienated teen saga and bloody body count slasher, O’Brien and co-scripter Christopher Hyde have crafted a work that has had reviewers recalling everything from TV’s series Fargo, Dexter and Six Feet Under to publishing franchise Goosebumps to George Romero’s 1977 film Martin (we’ll offer up Bryan Singer’s Apt Pupil and some Twin Peaks, too). But the atmospherics soar when it is bringing its own uniquely dark and dirty take on murderous urges and giving the forward momentum over to its two outstanding leading men.

Key protagonist is John Cleaver, a young man pulling shifts draining blood at his broken family’s mortuary while being completely self aware of his borderline sociopathic state. In the hands of the great Max Records, Cleaver takes his place alongside Jake Gyllenhaal’s Donnie Darko as one of contemporary teen cinema’s most vividly etched characters; like Darko, O’Brien’s anti-hero is introduced peddling his own way through a landscape that is at once familiar yet disorienting. His snow-covered Midwestern burg is in the early stages of a serial killing spree, the by-product of a mindset with which Cleaver is himself grappling.

Cleaver’s ‘Hardy Boys’-like guile has him zeroing in on a suspect; when he witnesses the stranger smooth-talk his elderly neighbour Crowley (Christopher Lloyd) into a car trip into the wilderness, Cleaver suspects the worst. In one of the great second act kickers in recent memory, O’Brien spins the story into a whole new and shocking realm that rattles both Cleaver and the viewer. To detail the narrative developments would be unavoidably spoiler-y, suffice to say it allows for Cleaver to fully explore and better understand the nature of his own tendencies while still wonderfully servicing the requirements of both the ‘teen loner hero’ and ‘slasher pic’ tropes.

Expect Christopher Lloyd’s performance to come into sharp focus during award season prognosticating. It is entirely deserving of recognition in the always hotly contested ‘Supporting Actor’ category, so menacingly understated and against type for the actor, still best known as Back to the Future’s Emmett ‘Doc’ Brown (in a perfect world, he will be up against John Goodman’s similarly enigmatic mystery-man Howard in 10 Cloverfield Lane). An Independent Spirit nod seems most likely; could A.M.P.A.S. see past the film’s genre roots (horror rarely gets noticed) to award Lloyd, one of Hollywood’s most beloved ageing icons? Records nails the tone required of him by his director, as well; his delivery of Cleaver’s ‘cardboard box’ speech, in which he dresses down a bully with eloquent insight into how he keeps his homicidal drive in check, is an instant classic.

O’Brien has reworked some hoary horror tropes in the past to deliver sly, sinister, engaging B-movies (genetically-modified farm horror in Isolation, 2006; rampant alien-human crossbreeding in The Hybrid, 2014). I Am Not a Serial Killer is more of the same, only better. Blessed with a macabre sense of the absurd, a pulse that beats with as much emotion as it does blood and the mean streak required to pull off the inherent nastiness of the premise, Dan Wells and Billy O’Brien’s nightmare world is a horror fan’s dream come true.

 

Thursday
Dec102015

THE LAUNCHPAD DIRECTORS: REVIEWS & INTERVIEWS FROM A NIGHT OF HORROR/FANTASTIC PLANET 2015

For the second consecutive year, Screen-Space was a proud contributor to the annual A Night of Horror/Fantastic Planet Film Festival, which closed out the 2015 edition last Sunday night. In addition to presiding over the Jury, we conducted the Launchpad Interviews – Q&As with film-makers world premiering their latest at ANOH/FP. 

Each director proved open and engaging, their films – a found-footage monster movie; a bleak take on child exploitation and violence; and, a genealogical-themed apocalyptic thriller – strong and unique visions. But were they any good…?

PIG PEN
Directed by JASON KOCH (Pictured, above right).
RATING: 4/5
From the first frame, this brutal odyssey into the nihilistic netherworld of disenfranchised suburbia is the stuff of nightmares. Koch has walked a similarly dark path in his two previous efforts (Lamplight; 7th Day), but many will be unprepared for the bloody dismemberments, psychological torment and teenage exploitation that feature so prominently in this truly shocking vision. Countering the ferocious presence of Vito Trigo as the sadistic psychopath/stepfather Wayne is Lucas Koch as Zack, aka ‘Pig Pen’. The actor (the director’s son) evokes a degree of empathy as the wayward, victimised tween-ager that is truly heartbreaking; few Best Actor trophies in the festival’s nine year history have been so richly deserved. As the mother helpless in the face of her own demons and witness to her son’s disintegrating childhood, Nicolette le Faye serves Koch Snr and Jnr superbly.
The Launchpad Interview: “I would have never been able to approach another parent of a child actor and say, ‘Trust me, it’ll be safe.’ Where I knew this would actually be the case, others may not have been easily convinced.” Read the full interview here.

GITASKOG
Directed by DRAZEN BARIC (Pictured, above centre).
RATING: 3/5
Debutant Drazen Baric’s calling-card effort is a solid entry in the found-footage/cabin-in-the-woods genre. It falls well short of its inspirations (Evil Dead; Cabin Fever; The Blair Witch Project), but does manage to recall (somewhat unexpectedly) John Boorman’s wilderness-set study in macho posturing, Deliverance. A group of brash, occasionally ‘dickish’ man-child archetypes disrespect the native people and their land while checking out a log home by a lake in the Canadian wilderness; said lake may also be home to a mythical beast, due its ritualistic feeding. See where this is going? The shrill yelling and goofy raunchiness of the group gets tiresome and the leaps in logic needed to establish the camera coverage is naff, but the money-shot in any found-footage monster pic – the reveal of the beast – is handled effectively by Baric. His film never quite soars above the clichés, but moments of convincing terror do emerge.
The Launchpad Interview: “It was an incredible risk to make this type of film in this type of genre because of today’s impatient sensibilities and lack of tolerance. We made this film on the basis that it would be something that ‘we’ would want to watch.” Read the full interview here.

NORMAL
Directed by MICHAEL TURNEY (Pictured, above left; with lead actress Nicola Fiore).
RATING: 3.5/5
…or ‘The Most Ironic Film Title of the Year’. Michael Turney has an eye for the brazenly shocking – his film opens wordlessly as his blindfolded, headphone-wearing protagonist, Pingo (Nicola Fiore), submits to a stranger’s animalistic thrusting. But, despite some confronting sex and violence, to 'shock' is not Turney’s modus operandi; the auteur’s first feature is both stinging social satire and oddly intimate account of a foretold fate. In searching for an emotional and spiritual self-knowledge, Pingo discovers a dark destiny that will impact all of mankind. Normal feels small-scale in its execution (and occasionally a bit too oblique for its own good), yet resonates as a horror/drama with lofty artistic and thematic ambitions. Clearly energised by the dark corners and edgy eccentricities of the NYC shoot, Turney amps up the end-of-days imagery in the final act and the lasting impact is both emotional and visceral.
The Launchpad Interview: “My main theme is always balance and I hope people realize that men and women need each other to maintain it regardless of how frustrated we may be with one another.” Read the full interview here.

Wednesday
Nov252015

A NIGHT OF HORROR VOLUME 1

Stars: Bianca Bradey, Craig Alexander, Jessica Nicole Collins, Jessica Hinkson, Karissa Lane, Jane Barry, Rosie Keogh, Pauline Grace, David Macrae, Steve Hayden, Emily Wheaton, Lelda Kapsis and Tegan Higginbotham.
Writers: Daniel Berhofer, Bossi Baker, Jon Hill, Clare d’Este, Goran Spoljaric, Carmen Falk and Matthew Goodrich.
Directors: Enzo Tedeschi, Bossi Baker, Justin Harding, Rebecca Thomson, Evan Randall Green, Goran Spoljaric, Carmen Falk, Matthew Goodrich, Nicholas Colla and Daniel Paperis.

A Night of Horror Volume 1 will screen as the Opening Night feature at the 2015 A Night of Horror/Fantastic Planet Film Festival; ticket and session information can be found at the official event website.

RATING: 4/5

The opening ‘Elm St’-ish chords foreshadow the nightmare landscape beckoning in A Night of Horror Volume 1, an Australian anthology pic brimming with an artful corpulent excess and supremely slick genre smarts. A unique initiative between co-producers Enzo Tedeschi (The Tunnel, 2011) and Dean Bertram, founder of the Sydney genre celebration from which the project takes its name, A Night of Horror Volume 1 deserves attention from international splatter fests that pride themselves on breaking new, fresh visions.

Tedeschi self-helms the compelling bridge-narrative that connects the short films. A disoriented Sam (Wyrmwood’s Bianca Bradey, sporting the modern kick-ass genre heroine ‘must have’ - a white singlet) awakens in a darkened, mannequin-populated warehouse (‘shadowy recesses’, literally and psychologically, is a recurring motif); as she wanders room to room, Sam finds key elements that materialise in the stories to follow.

Dwelling on what lurks in the dark is a key thematic device. The psychosis that inflicts a young woman in Evan Randall Green’s satisfying ‘Dark Origins’ haunts her from the shadows; Bossi Baker’s Hum, a nightmarish riff on the mysterious ‘suburban hum’ that is said to emit from modern cities, exists in a muted, darkened space both physically and psychologically; co-directors Nicholas Colla and Daniel Paperiss explore the ghostly legends of Victoria’s Dandenong Ranges in the ok ‘Flash’. The notion that ‘public transport is hell’ is explored in Goran Spoljaric’s ‘The Priest’, whose titular evil presence (memorably played by a chilling David Macrae) deserves to emerge as the Krueger-like star of the pic.

The film’s most enjoyably scary scenario is Justin Harding’s ‘Point of View’, which features a morgue attendant terrifyingly evading a freshly risen corpse who can only move when unseen (imagine playing the children’s game ‘What’s The Time, Mr Wolf?’ but with a zombie). The influence of Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator looms large over the segment, one of several knowing references lifted from film and classic literature – an isolated rural family in the grips of grief face-off against a ‘Jack Torrance’-type father/axe-wielder in Matthew Goodrich’s atmospheric Scission; the influence of Grimm fairy tales infuses Carmen Falk’s darkly funny gross-out bit, Ravenous; and, Rebecca Thomson’s utterly revolting, slyly hilarious Botox body-horror skit I Am Undone (which credits ‘pube wranglers’ and ‘boobateers’ as key contributors) recalls elements of Brian Yuzna’s Society and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.

It’s a tough ask, pulling off an anthology film. Not everyone is going to like everything, all but ensuring a mixed critical reaction; the blending of various visual styles and storytelling techniques will invariably seem jarring to most horror buffs. Even the best to emerge from the current compendium craze (the V/H/S and ABCs of Death series; Fool Japan The ABCs of Tetsudon) waiver in quality.

But Tedeschi, Bertram and their band of skilled, young filmmakers (all stepping up to ‘feature film’ contributor status for the first time) are clearly united in their aims and equally matched in talent. While the look and feel of each segment differs, the relentless drive and unyielding desire to make every bloody post a winner is self-evident; it is that dark spirit that binds and defines both A Night of Horror Volume 1 and the vast horror community, who should lap it up.

SCREEN-SPACE editor Simon Foster is the Head of Jury at the 2015 A Night of Horror/Fantastic Planet Film Festival.

Sunday
Oct182015

CRIMSON PEAK

Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver and Leslie Hope.
Writers: Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins.
Director: Guillermo del Toro.

Rating: 2.5/5

Genre god Guillermo del Toro’s grand but grating gothic melodrama Crimson Peak is rich in indulgent style but as prone to inconsequential substance as the ghoulish spectres that sporadically manifest.

Such a shortcoming need not be the death knell for a supernatural thriller; plenty have favoured good time frights over thematic complexity. But having established a turn-of-the-century heroine in Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), whose ambition to write smart horror posits her as a gender pioneer, the revered horror auteur bends to suit his favourite old-school tropes, reducing her to a shrieky ‘final-girl’ stereotype at best. At worst, she becomes a mere redemptive tool for Tom Hiddleston’s milquetoast fancy-lad, Thomas Sharpe. It is this lack of narrative ambition that reduces Crimson Peak to an uninvolving nod to horror's 'golden era', instead of the vibrant, modern retelling it could have been.

The film’s creepiest moment happens in the opening minutes, when the ghastly visage of a young Edith’s recently deceased mother returns to forewarn, “Beware of Crimson Peak”; why the maternal spirit (played del Toro regular, legendary movement artist Doug Jones) would take such a terrifying form to revisit her little girl is the first of many logical incongruities that curse the film. We next meet Edith as the well-to-do but independent young woman struggling to break free of her kindly, capitalist father, Carter (Jim Beaver), hawking her first manuscript but butting heads with chauvinist traditionalists.

Her dashing knight arrives in the form of Hiddleston’s entrepreneur who, having failed to secure Cushing’s financing, woos Edith in the wake of a family tragedy and whisks her away to his crumbling English estate, Allerdale Hall. Here, under the snarly glare of his nefarious sister Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain, chewing what’s left of the decrepit home’s scenery), Edith uncovers dealings that reveal The Sharpe’s sinister past and their plans for her alarmingly truncated future.

Scripting with the usually reliable Matthew Robbins, a longtime collaborator (Mimic, 1997; Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, 2010) and industry veteran (The Sugarland Express, 1974; *batteries not included, 1987), Del Toro structures a plot of gossamer flimsiness, clearly designed as a nod to the Giallo genre and Hammer oeuvre (note the protagonist’s surname) but barely able to inject any sense of dread into the labourious proceedings. Save the aforementioned apparition and two moments of ‘that’s more like it!’ ultra-violence, the 119-minute running time proves to be the Mexican director’s cruellest indulgence.

Del Toro the writer entirely cedes this production to del Toro the conceptual artist. From the muddy streets and mansions of Buffalo, New York, to the multi-tiered, majestic ruin that is Allerdale, del Toro’s vision is brought beautifully to life by art director Brandt Gordon (Total Recall, 2012; the soon-to-be-released Suicide Squad) and two-time Oscar-nominated production designer Thomas E Sanders (Bram Stoker’s Dracula, 1993; Saving Private Ryan, 1999). When the overripe dialogue and stodgy pace prove tiresome, there is always a great deal of artistic detail upon which the eyes can feast.

The ghostly matriarch’s foretelling comes to pass (to no one’s surprise, rest assured) when it is revealed that the locals often refer to Allerdale Hall as ‘Crimson Peak’, after the blood red clay upon which the estate is built. As winter falls and the soil swells with moisture, the grounds turn a corpulent scarlet. So, it’s just mud, that looks gory, but is not at all gruesome or sinister or even very interesting. Such a bloodless, messy foundation seems particular fitting.

It was a similarly vast but vacuous vision that left so many ambivalent towards his last effort, Pacific Rim. The director, whose one true masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth is nearly a decade old, may find himself teetering on the edge of irrelevance in the wake of his latest.

Sunday
Feb082015

WYRMWOOD

Stars: Jay Gallagher, Bianca Bradley, Leon Burchill, Luke McKenzie, Yure Covich, Keith Agius, Catherine Terracini and Meganne West.
Writers: Kiah Roache-Turner and Tristan Roache-Turner
Director: Kiah Roache-Turner.

Rating: 4/5

Feverish fan-boy fanaticism meets film-making fearlessness in the undead ocker shocker, Wyrmwood. Brothers Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner channel their clearly compulsive love for B-movie bloodletting into a debut work that honours the ‘Gore Gods’ of yore as efficiently as it announces the arrival of their own brand of genre genius.

Like death-metal music for the eyes, The Roache-Turner’s bludgeon their audience with a visual and aural onslaught that leaves no skull unexploded in their depiction of a hell-on-earth that is the new Australia. Bold enough to draw upon that hoary old horror trope ‘the meteor shower’ as the narrative kicker, the debutant filmmakers (Kiah gets sole directing honours; both take a writing credit) embark upon a slight but superbly entertaining survival story that pits everyman hero Barry (Jay Gallagher), his sister Brooke (Bianca Bradley, in a ballsy, up-for-anything performance) and new mate Benny (scene-stealer Leon Burchill) against a sunburnt nation of flesh cravers.

Horror-hounds will find the Roache-Turner’s gleeful cinematic nightmare pleasingly familiar. The most influential works are certainly Peter Jackson’s Braindead (aka Dead Alive, 1992), which featured the steely blue and rich crimson colour palette embraced by DOP Tim Nagle; Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness (1992), with its ultra-quick zooms, rapid-fire editing; and, Dr George Miller’s Mad Max (1979), with its ‘vengeful, grieving father’ anti-hero and mastery of open-road car-on-car action. Nods to Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake (2004) and fellow Aussie sibling-auteurs Michael and Peter Spierig’s Undead (2003) are also present.

But instead of a repackaged homage to their teen year favourites, The Roache-Turners afford Wyrmwood its own strong sense of self-worth. One character’s telepathic connection to the zombie hordes proves crucial to the narrative’s effectiveness; the implication that zombie by-products may be the newest renewable energy is a sly masterstroke; and, a revelation (however tenuously defined) that a universal blood type unites the survivors hints at a hopeful outcome for humanity.

Less assured is the establishment of the film’s real-world villains. The zombies terrify on a visceral level, but the vile antics of a disco-dancing, psychopathic scientist (Berryn Schwerdt) charged with assimilating zombie spinal fluid and Brooke’s human blood don’t sufficiently set up the level of conflict required to ensure a convincing third act face-off with a monologue-ing military jerk (Luke McKenzie). Some perfunctory fisticuffs rob the zombies and the audience of the apocalyptic-size melee expected (such as that delivered by Raimi in his third and epic Evil Dead film); it is the only instance where the meagre budget (an astonishing A$150,000) may have handicapped the auteur’s ambition.

Irrespective of its shortcomings, Wyrmwood will prove a horror festival staple for the rest of 2015 and a boys-own party favourite well into its home entertainment afterlife. As spelt out by blokish bushman Frank (a terrific Keith Agius) in one of the film’s rare quiet moments, the Book of Revelations told of the fallen star ‘Wormwood,’ sent plummeting to Earth by the trumpet cry of an angel, decimating all but those God left to determine their own destinies. For all its grotesque hellishness, Wyrmwood is similarly heaven-sent.

Wyrmwood will open the Perth Underground Film Festival on February 12; tickets available here.