Search
3D 5th Wave 70s Culture 80s Cinema A Night of Horror AAustralian film Action Activism Adaptation Adelaide Film Festival Adventure Advocacy African American Age of Adaline AI albanian Alien Abduction alien covenant aliens altzheimers amazon Amitabh Bachchan Animation anime anthology Anti-vaxx Ari Gold Art Asia Pacific Screen Awards Asian Cinema Australian film AV Industry Bad Robot BDSM Beach Boys Berlinale BFG Bianca Biasi Big Hero 6 Biography Biopic Blade Runner Blake Lively B-Movies Bollywood Breast Cancer Brian Wilson Brisbane Bruce Willis Camille Keenan Cancer candyman Cannes cannibalism Cannon Films Cesars CGI Chapman To Character Actors Charlie Hunnam Charlize Theron Chemsex China Lion Chloe Grace Moretz Chris Hemsworth Chris Pratt Christchurch christian cinema christmas Christopher Nolan Classic Cinema Close Encounters Cloverfield Comedy Coming-of-Age Conor McGregor Conspiracy Controversy Crowd-sourced Cult Cure Dakota Johnson Dance Academy Dardennes Brothers darth vader Debut Deepika Padukone Depression Disaster Movies Disney Diversity Documentary doomsday Dr Moreau drama Dunkirk Dustin Clare Dystopic EL James eli roth Elizabeth Banks Entourage Environmental Epic Erotic Cinema Extra-terrestrial Extreme Sports faith-based Family Film Fantasy Father Daughter Feminism Fifty Shades of Grey Film Film Festival Foreign found footage French Cinema Friendship Fusion Technology Gareth Edwards Gay Cinema Ghostbusters Ghosts Golan Globus Gothic green inferno Guardians of the Galaxy Guillermo del Toro Gun Control Hacker Hailee Steinfeld Han Solo Happiness Harrison Ford Harry Dean Stanton Hasbro Haunted house Hhorror Himalaya Hitchcock Hollywood Holocaust Hong Kong horror Horror Film Housebound Hunger Games Idris Elba IFC Midnight

Entries in Independent (28)

Tuesday
Oct202015

GIRL ASLEEP

Stars: Bethany Whitmore, Harrison Feldman, Imogen Archer, Eamon Farren, Matthew Whittet, Amber McMahon, Tilda Cobham-Hervey and Maiah Stewardson.
Writer: Matthew Whittet.
Director: Rosemary Myers.

Rating: 4.5/5

From Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Year My Voice Broke to Muriel’s Wedding and Somersault, Australian cinema has a prestigious tradition of vividly conveying that achingly beautiful, emotionally baffling divide between a young lady’s childhood and the mysteries of the adult world that lay before her. That legacy is strengthened further with director Rosemary Myers’ vibrant, fearless debut feature, Girl Asleep.

In fact, much about Myers’ adaptation of writer (and scene-stealing support player) Matthew Whittet’s play also shares its DNA with the best teen movie classics from beyond our shores. In addition to such influential charmers as John Hughes’ Sixteen Candles and Mark Waters’ Mean Girls, Girl Asleep could be cut from the same party-dress material as Katherine Dohan and Alanna Stewart’s 2012 non-pro no-budgeter What I Love About Concrete. Both share a giddy, free-for-all sensibility and delightfully idiosyncratic protagonists, who cope with the insanities of teen life by embracing the power of memory and imagination (similarities are purely coincidental, as both projects were long in development and the creative teams separated by half a planet).

The heart and soul of the just-quirky-enough narrative is nearly-15 year-old Greta, played with a meek but disarmingly charming innocence by the terrific Bethany Whitmore (Summer Coda, 2010; Mental, 2012). As she sits alone on a schoolyard bench, circa late 1970s, hilarious caricatures of high-school life swirl around her in a predominantly static long-take that announces Myers as a skilled craftsperson. Greta is befriended by fellow outsider Elliott, with boisterous ginge Harrison Feldman nailing that most crucial component of teen movie lore – the kooky bestie with a crush on our unknowing star.

Colouring Greta’s world various shades of awkward and embarrassed are saucy mum Janet (Amber McMahon), goofy dad Conrad (Whittet), big sister Genevieve (Imogen Archer) and her sexed-up boyfriend Adam (Eamon Farren). School is a nightmare, with queen-bee Jade (Maiah Stewardson) and her posse (twins Grace and Fiona Dawson) making Greta’s world hell. When Janet and Colin decide to make a big deal of Greta’s 15th and throw an all-or-nothing party (featuring a crowd-pleasing splash of music and dance that indicates a larger canvas would suit Myers’ eye for staging), the teetering narrative strands collide and threaten to implode Greta’s fragile emotional state. Such beats sound Teen Pic 101, which is also the point, as bracing originality enlivens the tropes with compelling pacing and comically precise scenarios.

The pic finds its raison d’etre when the production takes a fantastical third-act detour into Greta’s dark and dangerous subconscious. Featuring an imposing Tilda Cobham-Hervey (52 Tuesdays, 2013) as a woodland warrior/guardian angel type, these sequences are purely dreamlike and serve to guide Greta towards a core strength that will serve her as her adult self begins to form. They are inspiring flights of fantasy, employed with a lightness of touch yet convey the weight of a young woman’s maturation. These sequences alone will ensure Greta and her existential adventures should become not only a hot film festival item in the months ahead but also (and, perhaps, more importantly) a slumber-party staple for years to come.

As the Artistic Director of Adelaide’s Windmill Theatre Company, Rosemary Myers oversaw the initial stage production of Girl Asleep and her affinity towards and profound understanding of the material is evident. Wildly funny and deeply moving in equal measure, it is a work rich in larrikin character but universal in its themes and appeal. As Greta embraces her blossoming self, so to does Australian cinema welcome another memorable movie heroine.

Monday
Aug102015

7 CHINESE BROTHERS

Stars: Jason Schwartzman, Tunde Adebimpe, Eleanore Pienta, Olympia Dukakis, Jimmy Gonzales, Stephen Root, Alex Karpovsky, Jonathan Togo and Alex Ross Perry.
Writer/Director: Bob Byington

Watch the trailer here.

Rating: 4/5

Exactly the kind of outsider odyssey that Jason Schwartzman seemed destined to headline, Bob Byington’s ambiguously titled 7 Chinese Brothers is a sweet, slyly incisive tale of an unambitious man-child facing up to reality on his own terms. As Larry, the Austin, Texas outsider whose foppish hair, uneven stubble and left-field charm underpin his social-outcast status, Schwartzman once again proves an immensely likable screen presence.

Only revealing the truth of his lonely existence when laying on his old couch with his beloved dog, Arrow (the actor’s real-life pet and scene-stealing co-lead), Larry protects himself from the responsibilities of the world by keeping humanity, in all its forms, at arm’s length. Whether coping with the resentment of being sacked for stealing booze, sensing romantic longing for his new boss, Lupe (Eleanore Pienta) or facing the mortality of his only living relative, his grandma (Olympia Dukakis), Larry’s brazen goofishness and quick wit helps him through most of what life has to offer.

As the cards dealt by destiny force Larry to reassess his outlook, Byington’s screenplay forgoes the potential for life-lesson mawkishness and instead allows Schwartzman to minutely adjust Larry’s behaviour. The result is a film that honours the integrity of its lead character and the skill of its lead actor; the narrative, which stays just the right side of quirky, keeps sentimentality in check and provides a denouement that honours the legacy of the 90’s era slacker genre, from which it draws much of its personality.

In almost every scene, Schwartzman can bring the droll and the acerbic like few actors working today. Larry is clearly a deeply intelligent construct, riffing on small-scale philosophical dilemmas and human interaction when it strikes him. Yet his absurd indulgences, a boisterous mechanism by which he diffuses adult situations, are frequently hilarious; his ‘fat kid getting out of a pool’ bit is comedy gold.

It is interesting to ponder the notion that Larry is, in fact, the adult version of Max Fischer, Schwartzman’s iconic character from Wes Anderson’s Rushmore. Had society never fully accepted Max’s vision and drive, Larry may be all that is left; self-assured but socially awkward, he is a man at a crossroad, one which leads to a life as either an interesting if misanthropic shut-in or fully-engaged, healthily cynical man determining his own unique path.

Wednesday
Jul222015

LILET NEVER HAPPENED

Stars: Sandy Talag, Johanna ter Steege, John Arcilla, Angeli Bayani, Dorothea Marabut-Yrastorza and Jermaine Patrick Ulgasan.
Writers: Jacco Groen, Roy Iglesias.
Director: Jacco Groen.

Screening as the Closing Night Film at the Reel Sydney Festival of World Cinema.

Watch the trailer here.

Rating: 3.5/5

Finding bittersweet humour and heartbreaking humanity amongst the horror of the child prostitution industry of Manila is key to the impact that Dutch filmmaker Jacco Groen achieves with his debut feature, Lilet Never Happened. As one of Europe’s most respected documentarians, he has developed a distinctly empathic eye which, along with a measured degree of craftsmanship, keeps the narrative buzzing with real-world intensity, with the occasional indulgence in wish fulfilment movie moments.

Crucial to the film’s emotional heights is Sandy Talag as Lilet, the hardened 12 year-old who has fled an abusive, exploitative domestic life to live amongst the runaways and orphans in the shadowy alleyways and abandoned lots of the Filipino capital. Talag is a soaring onscreen presence; a naturally gifted performer who can play tough and tender in the same frame, she is called upon to navigate scenes that would test actresses twice her age and experience.

Having dodged the lascivious advances of a corrupt official (Hilario Nayra) while incarcerated, a sceptical Lilet is befriended by social worker Claire (Johanna ter Steege). Despite the offer of education and shelter in Claire’s school for disadvantaged kids, Lilet seeks out her elder sister Tessie (Dorothea Marabut), a ‘club dancer’ who services high-paying customers under the watchful eye of ruthless house mama Madame Curing (Grace Constantino, delivering the film’s other deeply resonant performance). Despite her protestations, Lilet becomes embroiled in the skin trade, her youth and beauty fetching top dollar amongst the establishment’s high-paying predators.

Lilet occasionally glimpses a life that more appropriately suits her tender years. She shares a sweet bond with fellow street-kid Nonoy (Tim Mabalot) and exhibits an affectionate bond with her younger brother Dino (Jermaine Patrick Ulgasan), whose unflinching hope that his sister will provide the new life that both desperately need gives the film a vital warmth. But the indelible sequences are those in which Talag portrays Lilet’s spiralling acceptance of life as a sex worker; in one memorable sequence, the actress achingly conveys an existential crossroad, striding through the red-lit hallways of the club’s ‘back rooms’ contemplating the consequences of a life under Madame Curing’s soulless exploitation.

Adopting an innocent’s point-of-view of a harsh, often inhumane society puts Groen’s film in the company of such lauded films as Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (1959), Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay (1988); it most strongly recalls Jeffery Brown’s Sold (2014), which examines the trafficking of a Nepalese girl to sex trade in India, and Keren Yedaya’s haunting 2004 Israeli drama, Or (My Treasure).

Lilet Never Happened falls just short of the classics of the genre; some rote characterisations and treacly sentiment occasionally derail the compelling, hard-edged realism at which Groen excels. Yet it remains a bracing, bold insight into the child sex criminal underworld, conveying a human spirit crushed into submission yet surging with the strength it takes to survive such abuse and injustice.

Lilet Never Happened will have its Australian Premiere at the Reel Sydney Festival of World Cinema. Ticket and venue information available at the event’s official website here.

Tuesday
Jun092015

THE CRITIC'S CAPSULE: SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL, VOLUME 2.

For Volume 2 of The Critic’s Capsule, SCREEN-SPACE ventures to every corner of the Sydney Film Festival program, presenting our take on a much-loved actress’ latest US indie, a Swedish drama about body issues, a South African documentary on an immortalized text, an insider’s look at Italy’s most famous horse race and a post-apocalyptic vision with BMX bikes…

PALIO (Dir: Cosima Spender / UK, Italy, 92 mins / pictured, above)
In his unbridled account of the Palio - the bareback, city-square horse-riding event that enthralls the population of Italy twice a year - acclaimed documentarian Cosima Spender (Dolce vita africano, 2008; Without Gorky, 2011) captures not only the brutal spectacle of the race but also the essential purity of Italian machismo. Ego, honour, ruthlessness, social stature and courage are both celebrated and brought down a peg or two in this wonderfully entertaining account of the legends who have flown the flags of the competing regions to magnificent highs and crashing lows. As pulse-pounding as the thunderous derby appears on screen, it is the rife corruption and crooked traditions that often prove the most entertaining aspect of Spender’s feature-length debut (a Tribeca best documentary nominee).
You’ll be talking about…
: The smug charm of alpha-male Gigi Bruschelli, firm in his belief that a record 14th Palio win is his heaven-sent destiny.
RATING: 4/5

THE DREAM OF SHAHRAZAD (Dir: Francois Verster / South Africa, Egypt, Jordan, France, The Netherlands, 107 mins / pictured, right)
One of the defining social texts of world literature, The 1001 Nights (aka Arabian Nights) relates the story of the great storyteller Princess Scheherazade, who defied the blade of her lover and king by crafting an endless narrative that would ultimately see her life spared and the monarch humbled. South African director Francois Verster frames a study of swift, often violent socio-political change in the Middle East within a celebration of music, art, performance and the redemptive power of positive creativity. Shot over two years and incorporating such outwardly disparate elements as the Turkish National Youth Orchestra’s staging of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and graphic images from the Arab Spring uprising, Verster considers the legacy of The 1001 Nights while crafting a challenging, vast yet intimate tapestry of personal and cultural significance.
You’ll be talking about…
: An Alexandrian actor and a troupe of Cairo-based performers stage readings of testimonies for the martyrs of the January 25 Revolution, written by the mothers of the deceased.
RATING: 4/5
 

GRANDMA (Dir: Paul Weitz / USA, 78 mins)
Lily Tomlin sets her sights on Oscar glory as Elle Reid in writer/director Paul Weitz’s razor-sharp character-driven comedy/drama, Grandma. Cutting a tart-mouthed swathe through the upscale gay and intellectual enclaves of LA in her search for the $630 needed to help her granddaughter Sage (Julia Warner, finally finding a worthy vehicle for her talents), Tomlins’ lesbian-poet-misanthrope reps a tour-de-force role. Having been cast aside by the LA suits after back-to-back duds Being Flynn and Admission, Weitz reconnects with the smart, sweet, caustic voice that highlighted his best work (About a Boy; In Good Company).
You’ll be talking about…:
Tomlin, of course, but also the marquee-worthy support cast – Marcia Gay Harden, John Cho, Judy Greer, Don McManus, Nat Wolff, a terrific Sam Elliott and the late Elizabeth Pena.
RATING: 4/5

MY SKINNY SISTER (Dir: Sanna Lenken / Sweden, Germany, 95 mins / pictured, right)
Few films have tackled the early-teen sororal dynamic with the insight and empathy of first-time writer-director Sanna Lenken’s My Skinny Sister. Taken for granted by tuned-out parents (Annika Hallin, Henrik Norlen), youngest daughter Stella (the remarkable Rebecka Josephson) idolises her figure-skater big sis Katja (Amy Deasismont, an dead-ringer for Hailee Steinfeld); the family begins to implode when Stella, herself struggling with early body-issue concerns and the first flushes of romantic desire, discovers Katja is in the throes of bulimia. No surprise that Lenken was once a sufferer and has previously explored the impact of the disease in the short Eating Lunch; there is barely a false note in her slow-burn drama. Despite some unnecessary third act melodrama, My Skinny Sister is, in every other respect, a warm-hearted, quietly powerful work.
You’ll be talking about…
: The bathroom scene, where Stella is filled with concern when she discovers Katja is purging, only to have Katja hold the crush Stella has for the ice-skating coach over her little sister in exchange for secrecy. Josephson and Deasismont (aka, Swedish pop starlet Amy Diamond) are both extraordinary in their bigscreen debuts.
RATING: 3.5/5  

TURBO KID (Dirs: Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoan-Karl Whissell / New Zealand, Canada, 95 mins / pictured, right)
Turbo Kid has been touted as a loving nod to those dusty VHS rentals that faded on the outer rims of rental shelves with names like 1990: The Bronx Warriors and Exterminators of The Year 3000. An outland BMX-er named ‘The Kid’ (an ok Munro Chambers) takes on the guise of his comicbook hero, Turbo Kid, to thwart the henchmen of bloodthirsty post-apocalyptic dictator, Zeus (Michael Ironside, enjoying himself). It should be a blast, but this Kiwi/Canuck hybrid oozes an icky hipster-cool smugness that impresses itself by ridiculing the genre’s shortcomings rather than celebrating the unshakeable integrity of the no-budget action epic. The gags feel like cheap shots, rarely earning a laugh. DOP Jean-Philippe Bernier’s widescreen frame and crisp imaging actually work against the comedic premise, as does the CGI-amped splatter-effects. EP Jason Eisener nailed the 80s send-up/homage with far greater skill as director of Hobo With a Shotgun (2011).
You’ll be talking about…
: The wonderful Laurence Leboeuf as comic-relief robo-babe Apple. If the film finds its audience (that under 25, ‘the 80s were so daggy and funny’ crowd), expect Apple cosplayers to populate the Cons.
RATING: 2.5/5

Visit the Sydney Film Festival website for all ticketing and venue information.

Wednesday
Mar042015

BEREAVE

Stars: Malcolm McDowell, Jane Seymour, Keith Carradine, Mike Starr, Vinessa Shaw, Ethan Embrey and Mike Doyle.
Writers/directors: Evangelos and George Giovanis.

Rating: 4/5


The small but fervent festival following that George and Evangelos Giovanis have developed will grow in enthusiastic numbers with their latest, Bereave. Those who backed the expertly executed crowd-funding drive to the tune of US$100,000 can be rest assured that every cent is well spent by the Greek sibling auteurs; everyone involved in this moving, acutely realised drama maximises the worthy material and is at the top of their game.

Only their fourth film in a decade and six years since their last work, the highly-honoured Run It, The Giovanis’ lyrical script opens with a gripping sequence in which waning patriarch Garvey (Malcolm McDowell) contemplates another day of directionless existence. Denied a messy self-inflicted end by the call of his wife Evelyn (Jane Seymour), Garvey is revealed as both a brash crank (“Today, you almost look beautiful,” he tells the still-stunning Seymour) and struggling with an increasingly fractured memory.

As the day unfolds, Evelyn’s patience with her boorish, troubled husband begins to unravel inexorably until her own attempts at a final booze-and-pill cocktail send her into the unfriendly Los Angeles night. Struggling to cope with their parents strained marriage and shrinking mortality are daughter Penelope (Vinessa Shaw), a single mother fearful that she is losing grip of her own pre-teen daughter, Cleo (Rachel Eggleston); and, son Steve (Mike Doyle), a decent man whose West Coast charms ensnare the lithesome Natalie (Hannah Cowley) but barely register with his distracted, flighty mother.

Some third act melodrama involving petty thugs and the occasional over-indulgence in florid dialogue (“I only speak violin”) can’t derail the strength of character-driven central narrative established masterfully in the films first half. Powerful scenes of potent drama set largely in the protagonist’s slick, sleek chrome-and-glass apartment allow McDowell and, in particular, Seymour some of their best on-screen moments in many years. The British acting pair find a deep, dark complexity to the marital dynamic, the filmmakers affording their stars the time and space to delve deep into the damaged psyches of Garvey and Evelyn.

A terrific Keith Carradine rounds out the acting honours as Garvey’s longtime confidant, the alpha-male Victor, his presence crucial to a subplot that thematically reinforces the emotional pain of receding memory. An extended sequence early in the film, in which Garvey reveals for Victor the desperation of his existence, provides McDowell and Carradine the kind of dramatic beats only the finest of thespians could pull off; both are mesmerising in the scene.

Recalling Michael Haneke’s Amour in its exploration of fading memory, mature-age love and dwindling life force but played against the broader backdrop of the noir-ish LA sprawl, Bereave is an achingly insightful, darkly humorous, richly rewarding work by two important creative forces. It must certainly be the last time the Brothers Giovanis have to rely on passionate fans and their own sales skill to secure feature film funding. The coffers of those that oversee the top tier of international film production should be open to these mature, masterful, unique storytellers immediately.

Screening at the Byron Bay International Film Festival. Session details and tickets available here.

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.

Friday
Jan232015

THE QUARANTINE HAUNTINGS

Stars: Lauren Clark, Elizabeth Wiltshire, Darren Moss, Jack Marshall, Jenna Edwards, Bailey Skelton, Peter Sumner and Troy Harrison.
Writers: Bianca Biasi, Rebekah Biasi, Arnold Perez, Josh Sambono and Stephanie Talevski.
Director: Bianca Biasi and Arnold Perez.

Rating: 3/5

Co-directors Bianca Biasi and Arnold Perez deliver a skilfully crafted calling card pic with their psychological thriller/ghost story mash-up, The Quarantine Hauntings. Exhibiting a solid understanding of genre machinations, the pair make up for a lack of narrative inspiration with sufficiently solid scares. Cable TV and digi-download viewership amongst those who appreciate high ambition on a low budget is assured.

A hectic 24-hour handheld shoot at the infamous Quarantine Station on Sydney’s most northern headland is central to both the plot and the pic’s marketing. (Urban legends have proven popular of late with Oz filmmakers; Carlo Ledesma’s The Tunnel [2011] explored the abandoned subterranean network under Sydney, while Dane Millerd took on the legend of the Yowie in There’s Something in The Pillaga [2014]). Although fully restored for the tourist trade, the old hospital site once housed the seriously ill in archaic conditions during the nation’s early colonial period. The high mortality rate led to its reputation as one of the east coast’s most haunted sites, home to several spectres that have allegedly appeared to the unsuspecting for many years.

One such apparition is Jolene (Dalisha Cristina), aka ‘The Girl in The Pink Dress’, a 9 year-old who passed away as medicos bickered over her treatment. Seen in flashback (with veteran character actor Peter Sumner supplying some old-school villainy), Biasi and Perez employ slick post-production trickery to create a nightmarishly immersive vision of poor Jolene’s final moments.

Thematically, the film adheres (at times, tenuously) to such horror genre staples as grief, memory and regret. Key protagonist Jasmine (a particularly fine Lauren Clark) continues to struggle with the death of her father; bff Skye (Elizabeth Wiltshire) offers positivity, guiding her through boyfriend dramas (Daren Moss’ douche-y Cameron) and parental discord. Always nearby is Skye’s younger brother Blake and his offsider Zac (respectively, Bailey Skelton and Jack Marshall) in the smart-mouth comic relief roles that would have been played by Corey’s Haim and Feldman thirty years ago, and little sister Eva (an underused Jenna Edwards).  

The reckless recital of an ancient incantation summons Jolene from beyond and the angry spirit seeks out kindred dark soul Jasmine, who has holed up with the group of friends to sleep off antidepressant medication. One moment of true terror, a darkly lit scene during which the extent of Jolene and Jasmine supernatural bond is revealed, is the stuff of nightmares. The unfolding of broader plot points becomes both overly familiar and unnecessarily convoluted, but the performances overall are natural and engaging and few of the clichés will register with the film’s target teenage demographic.

The second and third acts combine lots of references to classics of the genre – a character notes that the diary that contains the spell “looks like the Necronomicon”; Cameron’s late night snacking turns into a homage to a similar scene in Poltergeist; and, Jolene’s muted colour and long black hair unavoidably recall the Yurei spirit seen in J-horror classics Ringu and Ju-On: The Grudge.

Also embraced are the ‘shaky-cam’ techniques and ‘real-world’ lensing (security cameras, mobile phones, etc) that have been refined in standard bearers The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. Most of the late night panic at the quarantine station is deliberately hard to decipher; the result is more disorienting than terrifying, but achieves enough chills to satisfy.

SCREEN-SPACE was a grateful guest of the production at The Quarantine Hauntings premiere, held at the Quarantine Station site ahead of a limited local theatrical season.

Monday
Nov102014

54 DAYS

Stars: Michela Carattini, Glenn Millanta, Greg Wilken, Michael Drysdale, John Michael Burdon, Matt James, Byron Sakha and Dianna La Grassa.
Writer/director: Tim Lea.

54 Days will have its Australian Premiere at the SciFi Film Festival on November 16. 

Rating: 3.5/5

Thoroughly deserving of a place in the canon of Australia’s ‘nuclear threat’ cinematic sub-genre, survivalist drama 54 Days spins its Twilight Zone-type scenario into an all-too-real study of desperation and despair. A slick exercise in close-quarters tension, it represents a solid calling-card effort for debutant helmer, Tim Lea, who exhibits an assured directorial hand.

The Oz sector has offered some idiosyncratic visions of a nuclear world order; notably, of course, the Hollywood-funded adaptation of Nevil Shute’s On the Beach and George Millers’s post-apocalyptic Mad Max trilogy, but also such fine works as Ian Barry’s The Chain Reaction (1980), Dennis O’Rourke’s 1985 documentary Half Life: A Parable for the Nuclear Age and Michael Pattinson’s thriller, Ground Zero (1987). With its enclosed dynamics and young person’s perspective, 54 Days most closely resembles John Duigan’s 1984 drama One Night Stand, which focussed on four teens locked inside the Sydney Opera House and contemplating their mortality as an inevitable atomic blast inches closer.

For Lea’s protagonists (first introduced in his short-film precursor to this feature), war descends upon them as a rooftop party is in full swing. The late 20-somethings, typically consumed with such minor woes as boyfriend troubles and getting richer, flee as a mushroom cloud (convincingly rendered by the effects team) envelops the horizon. Five make it to the building’s fully-outfitted bunker – Michelle (Michela Carattini), a party-girl in the thrall of a secret affair with strapping hero-type, Nick (Michael Drysdale); Michelle’s on-the-outer bf, Anthony (John Michael Burdon), already history in the eyes of Michelle’s bff, Liz (the striking Dianna La Grassa); and jittery Yank, Dirk (Greg Wilken).

As the realisation dawns that their resources will soon expire and that survival means the sacrifice of one of the group, tensions understandably run high. Each reacts in a way that reveals their true selves; some with grace and gravitas, others with a ruthless need to survive that proves shocking. A little harder to comprehend is one character’s descent into a madness that results in a friendship with a cockroach; the bug’s skilful conveying of emotion should surely earn a support billing mention. Casting aside certain elements that come with low-budget, first-time efforts and forgiving occasional asides that derail the tension, the narrative that emerges is a compelling one, the denouement particularly disturbing.

Special mention should be made of production designer Skye McLennan for the detail-rich bunker interior and DOP Nathaniel Jackson for superb use of shadow and spot lighting. One point sure to raise eyebrows is the production’s decision to identify the aggressors as ‘The Chinese’, a risky proposition given that very little back-story is provided into the international state-of-affairs that would prompt such an attack; detractors may point to this as an anachronistic nod to racial stereotyping in much the same way as the threat of a nuclear strike between advanced countries seems far less likely in 2014 than it did in 1985. 

Page 1 2 3