Driven by the voice of her unborn child, seven month pregnant Ruth embarks on a homicidal killing spree to avenge the recent death of her husband.
This slasher black comedy is the brilliant directorial debut of its star Alice Lowe. Seen in various low budget Brit flicks particularly the absolutely outstanding Ben Wheatley classic “Sightseers”, she cements her role as that crazy woman you wouldn’t sit anywhere near on a bus.
“Prevenge” is a low budget low key thriller that appears influenced by the days when Hammer Horror ditched the monster creature features and produced a couple of contemporary horrors, see “Straight On till Morning” if you haven’t already. It’s the real life monsters that are in fact the scariest, and in this case; pregnant widows.
Partly reliant on what appears as a largely improvised or bare bones dialogue script it’s the editing, cinematography and the understated music that’s the real driving force here. Music from ex-Unkle members now Toydrum, the synth atmospheric score creates an unsettling edge complimented by Lowes insanely real performance.
Naturalistically shot, clearly using available light, the cinematography places the audience deep into this gritty grainy story whether they want to or not.
The supporting cast are excellent too, with the female supports getting the biggest slice of the corpse. Jo Hartley (This is England, The Mimic), Gemma Whelan (Game of Thrones, The Moorside), & Kate Dickie (The Witch, Prometheus), the standouts.
If I did have one quibble, it would be that the demises were mostly one note. A bit of gore-induced variety wouldn’t have gone astray.
I absolutely applaud Lowes tenacity in making this film whilst being 7-8 months pregnant herself. Her drive, or axe to grind, very apparent in getting this beautifully crafted horror comedy out of her system.
There’s a message here deep at the films core…don’t piss off Alice Lowe…EVER!!
Australians have been producing quality horror films for some time now, whether you look at the films of yester-year with the likes of Long Weekend, or Turkey Shoot, to more modern scares with The Babadook, Wyrmwood, The Tunnel, or Wolf Creek.
There’s a range of psychological emotions that come with each of the afore-mentioned movies with one thing in common…the ability to heighten your senses by scaring and entertaining you.
It’s part of the reason that as a film lover, (and to isolate that down further) a fan of the horror genre, that I’m proud of the quality movies that are being produced on this Southern land that I call home.
And it’s also why I’m a huge campaigner of the films that are being produced here in Australia.
So with eagle eyes, I’ve noticed a recent ripple in the genre on our homes soil, with the much-touted Killing Ground.
Directed by Damien Power, who has been turning heads with his short features for the past few years, most notably with Peekaboo, and A Burning Thing, which starred Nashville’s Clare Bowen.
Killing Ground would be Power’s feature length debut and it certainly packs a punch.
Utilising two of Australia’s strong identity components in the bush land and the sun.
Firstly, I’d like to look at the first element…the bush.
Australia is notorious for its ever-rolling landscape, with is a strange mix of the wild and beautiful thrust together in co-existence.
It’s an area that has been explored before with the afore-mentioned Wolf Creek, where director Greg McLean highlights the fear within Australia’s red centre.
With Killing Ground, Power takes that same initiative, but thrust the viewer into the bush land, centring on a couple, choosing a romantic getaway at an isolated spot known for its walks among the fauna.
All gets flipped over though when said couple, Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows) unwittingly stumble on a crime scene and have to resort to their wits in order to survive.
Meadows is fast crafting a name for himself in the genre following the Cairnes brothers movie, Scare Campaign, and carves a decent performance in Killing Ground as Ian, a doctor by trade, but when push comes to shove, becomes indecisive and ultimately only thinks of himself. It feels like a natural response coming from this character and tears down the walls of predictability with Ian’s reactions or lack thereof highlighting his plight.
Equally, Harriet Dyer’s journey of Sam bends a strong character arc that shines brightly by the films conclusion and is enjoyable as a result.
In order for the film to be successful though it does hinge on the antagonists to be brutal, savage, and fearful.
And this maybe my only criticism of the piece, from what is essentially a well crafted film.
The highlight, hands down, is Aaron Pedersen’s portrayal of German. The menace and savagery that he brings to the table is haunting and Pederson delivers a character that is embedded in dark mind that can be turned on and off with horrifying ease. He was a delight to watch and it was a shame to see his comeuppance come so swiftly, when it does arise. (Although, again it feels like a realistic moment when it does occur).
As a result though, the film relies on the unhinged Chook (Aaron Glenane) to carry out the proceedings of hunting down our protagonists, and unfortunately this is where I feel it falls flat.
Chook is unbalanced, and clearly motivated by his sexual appetite, his character never feels threatening enough. Yes, he’s a crack shot with the rifle and that’s plenty to be fearful of, but he’s bumbling approach to life, dampens the threat a little.
It’s a shame as it feels like so much attention was focused on the other characters that with a bit more work on this would have made for an excellent climax.
Speaking of which, the ending to the movie feels like it takes a bit of a stretch, and maybe because I had high hopes, I was left wanting.
Yes there is a resolution and one that does satisfy with our central character’s journey, but that satisfaction is left a little empty as the threat level diminishes.
I say all this, but it negates the films strong points. It’s a well-crafted slow burner of a thriller that propels you along with its split timeline narrative and allows the horror to be drawn out in a compelling way.
Damien Power certainly has a gift for spinning a thrilling yarn both as director and writer of Killing Ground, and this effort is definitely one to be proud of.
I look forward to seeing where his talents take him next.
As discussed in our latest podcast on Annabelle: Creation, the Conjuring universe is certainly expanding and this latest entry into the world feels like the first to make its mark.
Cinematic universes are fast becoming the next big thing – you can’t create a movie these days without looking beyond the movie that is being produced in order to explore untapped story potential.
Annabelle: Creation is no exception and a lot has been resting on the shoulders of this film to succeed in order for The Conjuring Universe to leap ahead with its grand plans.
Already committed to the franchise is ‘The Nun’ spinoff, heading to cinemas mid-next year, plus a stand-alone film centered on ‘The Crooked Man’ from The Conjuring2, plus a third outing on the supernatural investigations led by The Warrens.
Overseeing this universe from a writing perspective is Gary Dauberman, who not only has cast his vision across the numerous films slated, but contributed towards the much-anticipated It movie, due to be released in the coming weeks.
What is notable however in Dauberman’s writing is his fascination with the occult and those that practice or delve into the dark arts.
Despite its obvious flaws, Annabelle’s beating heart centred upon ‘Satanists’ and that of a woman from an undisclosed cult projects her twisted soul into the titular doll and thereby exacting its demonic will upon the afflicted family.
What has this all to do with the Manson family murders, I hear you cry?
Well, sandwiched in-between the release of Annabelle and Annabelle: Creation, Dauberman worked on a little movie called Wolves At The Door, a tough, hard-hitting drama horror based on the Sharon Tate murders.
Those who are unfamiliar with this case, there were 5 victims in total, murdered in the home of Sharon Tate, wife to director Roman Polanski at the time and who was 8 months pregnant when she was killed.
The murders were carried out by four of Charles Manson’s ‘family’ by climbing into the estate and carrying out one of the most brutal and documented crimes in Hollywood.
It’s a dark subject and perhaps due to its historical context makes the viewing all the more harder to take on-board despite its lenient running time.
The connection doesn’t just stop with this movie though, as a more obvious relation is at play in Dauberman’s writing in the form of this guy.
Eric Ladin’s detective character, Clarkin was last seen in the Annabelle movie, charged with overseeing the murders that took place at the start, and would be called upon by Mae to discuss the ‘ritual’ behavior that was carried out.
“Crazy people do crazy things sometimes.”
A line that he mentions in passing to sum up all the horror that has unfolded and would be repeated again in Wolves At The Door, when Clarkin is again called in to investigate a break-in that has all the hallmarks of satanic beliefs and the precursor to the Sharon Tate murders.
His appearance may be minor in both films, but is there more to be uncovered in this character?
Does Dauberman have any plans to explore this character further? Could we expect another spinoff following Detective Clarkin’s investigations?
With the expanding universe, anything’s possible, right?
Like me, you may have believed that The Sixth Sense was M. Night Shyamalan’s directorial debut, such was the impact that movie had on his career and the horror genre.
Before this movie awakened our senses and Shyamalan became known as the director with the twist endings, he would take the helm with two other features, Praying with Anger, and Wide Awake.
The former would see Shyamalan write, direct, produce, and star (a sign of things to come) in a self-reflective story about an Indian American, who was raised in the States who goes to India to study, and a conflict of Western and Native culture collide.
Clearly, there is a lot of the director’s love and labour thrown into this project as he covers every aspect of the production process.
Six years later (1998) Shyamalan would venture into his sophomore feature with Wide Awake, a comedy drama starring Denis Leary, Dana Delany, and Rosie O’Donnell.
Once more faith, and religion (a reoccurring them in Shyamalan’s work) would play a part in this story, as a 10-year-old searches for answers around life and death.
Another signature that would return for the third movie and the film that would put Shyamalan’s name on the map would be to tell the story through the eyes of a young boy, capturing the essence of innocence in a ‘brave new world’.
The Sixth Sense
The blessing and the curse
The film was nominated for six Academy Awards and thrust Shyamalan into the spotlight.
The Sixth Sense has been referenced and parodied on numerous occasions, and cemented itself firmly into pop culture.
Starring Bruce Willis, Toni Collette, and career defining performance from Hayley Joel Osmont.
Despite all the accolades thrust toward the movie, because of its ‘surprise ending’, it falls into the trap of lost magic, once the reveal is apparent.
People may have been keen to re-watch and scrutinise every aspect for the clues set up along the way, but essentially, you could never capture THAT moment again with repeat viewing.
It’s a strong contender in Shyamalan’s canon of work, but arguably not his finest hour for this writer.
Personally, I don’t feel he has managed to top his follow-up movie…
The elevation of success continues
Bruce Willis would once again work alongside Shyamalan following the success of The Sixth Sense.
This time Samuel Jackson and Robin Wright, rounding out a stellar cast that would accompany him.
Shyamalan’s ode to the comic book genre has been labelled as one of the best superhero movies of all time and you can clearly see the director’s love for the subject.
Unbreakable is a wonderful shot and beautifully told story that pits Willis’ David Dunn, a man who discovers that he is as the title suggests, unbreakable when he is the lone survivor of a train crash.
Dunn pits his strength and wits against Jackson’s Elijah, his polar opposite in that his body is prone to fracturing easily and in my mind, one of the best things about the film is the way Shyamalan’s narrative leads you to believe and identify with the reasons that Elijah resorts to villainous behaviour, a topic that many have tried but failed to convey.
Shyalaman’s third success would come in the form of…
The last hurrah?
Signs would complete Shyalaman’s hat trick of successes before his fall from grace.
Once more faith is put under scrutiny when Gibson’s Father Graham Hess is struggling to identify with his religion after the loss of his wife.
It’s his acceptance of that grief that shoulders him and ultimately his family through an alien invasion that threatens their way of life.
With each movie Shyamalan has released his formula had been pretty consistent, but audiences were starting to wisen up to his craft.
His next feature would break the camels back and see a downward trend in Shyamalan’s fortunes.
The one trick ponyrevealed
I’m gonna ask a question here relating to The Village, which in my opinion has received unfair criticism towards it.
If Shyamalan had not been the director, would we (the audience) have been so scornful?
Too many people had become familiar with the directors trick of adding a surprise ending that when said trick arrived in The Village, there was a sense of being let down.
“Oh, is that it? WTF!!”
However, if you take Shyamalan out of the equation and simply look at the movie on its own merit, it’s actually a lot stronger than our immediate reactions warranted.
Joaquin Phoenix returns as Shyamalan’s latest muse, this time portraying Lucius one of the next generation of a secluded villagers that we’re led to believe darkens back to days of yore, such is the existence that the inhabitants lead.
Believing that their secret is set to be exposed, the Elders are rescued by a stroke of luck when a blind girl, Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard) ventures out into the outside world to retrieve some much needed medicine.
As I said, I liked this movie. Agreed not Shyalaman’s finest hour but it’s a solid movie.
Any fans of the directors work that found themselves sitting on the fence of uncertainty about Shyalaman’s directing prowess, would find their confidence drift further with his follow up film…
Lady In The Water
The fall from grace
There’s no doubt in my mind that Shyalaman is a smart man.
His intelligence brims to the surface of all of his movies.
But like another smart man once said, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’
And with his recent run of successful movie hits, one can’t help but thing that Lady In The Water is an example of how the directors vision had left his vision firmly in the clouds.
You have to commend him for the effort portrayed in infusing a fantastical world based in reality, but Shyalaman is so absorbed in his own creation and egotistical views that he fails to see the bigger picture, and because of this, he loses his audience in a convoluted mess of a fairy tale.
What makes it worse, is the now notorious self-casting of the writer come to save us all.
It feels so egotistical that and the delusion is worrying sign for a director/writer who had shown so much promise.
And as if he were hell-bent on destroying his career, Shyalaman decides to kill off a character within the plot who just so happens to be a movie critic.
If Lady In The Water has one saving grace, it’s that Giamatti’s performance keeps the narrative bopping above the surface, but not even the addition of a good cast in support, notably Bryce Dallas Howard as the nymph, Story, and Jeffrey Wright as Mr Dury can help save this film from drowning in a pool of its own vomit.
So, where to from here?
His first box office disappointment and Shyalaman chooses to push on regardless with…
The film that limped across the line.
With a point to prove, Shyalaman would turn his attention next to a B-Movie horror with smarts.
But The Happening was hardly a victory.
Starring Mark Wahlberg, who himself criticised the film and Zooey Deschanel, an actress who usually sets the screen alight with her strong performances.
With a promising start, The Happening does hold promise, but the audience once again finds themselves lost in the lack of plot structure and smothered by the overbearing message on environmentalism.
By now, we’ve reached the mid-way point of Shyalaman’s career thus far and the feeling I get as I survey his filmography is that he’s a man with grand visions and ideas, but he’s not necessarily going to execute them effectively.
Case in point…
The Last Airbender
Dead on arrival
Based on the successful kids tv series on Nickelodeon, The Last Airbender should have been a success given its strong following, and this could be in part why it received a fairly strong opening weekend at the Box Office.
But the first movie that Shyalaman would attempt from a story that wasn’t his own would prove to be another failure for the director.
This film to me feels like a move from a guy who is lost in the world and with no sense of direction or where he is going.
Which is understandable considering his recent run of poor performances.
With a central character who displays no personality whatsoever and a script that clearly doesn’t connect with the writers ethos, The Last Airbender is a film that doesn’t even register on the Richter scale and doesn’t stir any emotion at all.
This is Shyalaman’s lowest point in his career.
When you reach rock bottom there’s only up though, right? Right?
An interesting response from Shyalaman during this time was to put on his producer hat and support another movie released in 2010 called Devil.
This film was actually quite good and showed promise, but importantly saw a success under Shyalaman’s name but this time not as a director.
That particular journey had still needed to right itself and was by far from finding solid ground.
Instead we’re treated to…
This movie was essentially a passion project of Will Smiths.
Based on an idea that he developed, After Earth would also star Smith’s son Jayden and produced by Smith himself alongside his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith and Shyalaman.
The latter of whom feels like is still in self destructive mode, clambering up the sides of the hole of failure, which he pretty much dig himself.
As if he didn’t learn his last lesson, Shyalaman plummets into another disappointing film by tackling a story that is not his own.
Ironically, the director had lost faith in himself. Ironic in that faith is the very subject that fascinates this director when approaching storytelling.
Will Smith would describe After Earth as his most painful failure and there’s a reason that most people have tried to bury this movie from their minds, which falls just short of being the worst post apocalyptic sci-fi film of all-time.
No one can take Battlefield Earth off that mantle.
The much needed reprieve
Although his next move saw Shyalaman only serve as director for the pilot and serve as Executive Producer, the choice was an important step in his career.
By turning his attention to a different medium, (a tv series), Shyalaman would be able to realign himself once more.
Take stock and arguably bring him back into contention as an auteur once more.
This could very well be the turning point that Shyalaman was searching for in his climb back into the realms of success again.
On face value it struck me as just another found footage horror, with the protagonists played by sibling kids, Becca and and Tyler (Olivia De Jonge and Ed Oxenbould who both deserve high recognition for their performances in this) who go to stay with Nana and Pop-Pop, grandparents they’ve never seen before, which automatically sent signals off for me.
The plot line is a little clumsy in places as Shyamalan stumbles his way through telling a story on new-found confidence, albeit a little shakily.
There is another strength in the tale though to allow Shyalaman to stride forward in his tale, as the right ingredients are in place to propel the story forward with fear and trepidation combined with a genuine care factor for the central characters involved.
My only niggle was the slight arrogance from Shyalaman from the role of Becca.
She speaks intelligently enough but it just dips slightly into the level of annoyance and too many scars are on display still from Shyalaman’s previous outings.
This aside, it plays along nicely enough with a reward that doesn’t feel forced.
It’s a strong sign of things to come.
The return to form?
By the time I came around to watching this the word was already out and the spoilers had hit the net.
The audience reaction was… divided and yet I intended to come into this film with an open mind.
The pace and build up was faultless and thrust the viewer headlong into the ordeal that the 3 kidnapped girls face.
James McAvoy is simply outstanding displaying so many diverse personalities, although we only ever see 8 of the 24 in the film.
Perhaps because this would have been too confusing and the audience would have been lost.
Maybe Shyalaman has learnt his lesson after all?
Also making an impact on the screen in films such as Morgan and The Witch is Anya Taylor-Joy who delivers another defining turn as one of the kidnapped girls, Cassie, who has her own skeleton in her closet which becomes integral to the closing scenes of the movie.
There are some moments that he action is a little scattered in places but overall Shyamalan delivers a solid movie with the promise of an Unbreakable / Split crossover in the near future.
This news has got fans salivating at this prospect but also has film lovers in a frothing frenzy of anger at the idea of another movie being released by the director.
Has Shyamalan burnt too many bridges in his audience trust?
Is he bouncing back from redemption? And does have what it takes to another another successful feature?
Love him or hate him, I’ve come to admire his appetite to keep challenging himself and delivering compelling stories.
Each story he produces takes him in a different direction and he seems fearless to take on his visions.
Yes he may not land with every punch, but there’s not many other directors out there in the mainstream that continue to offer something new to the scene and to produce conversation with every project that he overseas.
For good or Ill, I’m glad to see someone like Shyamalan still producing in the film industry.
And I’ll have to hang my hat on that unpopular statement.