Beaten to Death is the epitome of being put through the wringer. From the get-go, Sam Curtain’s third feature from the director’s chair (which premiered recently at Australia’s A Night of Horror International Film Festival) is relentless in carrying out its mantra in promising to beat a man to death. Our opening shots are of a guy literally being pummelled by a brute of a man; the reasons why yet to be disclosed.
Set in Tasmania, where Curtain, who also takes on writing and cinematography duties, takes full advantage of the beautiful-yet-brutal landscape; a metaphor for the narrative as it unfolds. Both Man and Nature are at its most harshest to put our everyman to his final test.
Jack (Thomas Roach) is the man to be subjected to all forms of torture. He along with his partner Rachel (Nicole Tudor) have rolled the dice on a gamble that could help them through their struggles, but the path they choose and fate have a different tale to tell.
Beaten to Death is one of those rare movies that does exactly what it says on the tin. It is not for the faint of heart, take note of the title. It’s spelt out for you.
What Curtain does offer is anything but predictable, carving up the narrative to draw out the ebbs and flows of Jack’s suffering. He allows the audience to breathe but just enough to catch our breath and throw us into the grinder again. There is heart too as we slowly learn of Jack’s initial plight and ultimate descent. Hats off to a solid performance by Roach too to lure the audience in with his solid portrayal.
Curtain keeps dangling the hope of survival throughout, and thus the tension hits you squarely in the face… repeatedly until the end. Brace yourself.
Australian Director Andrew Traucki certainly has a taste for aquaphobia with his breakout feature hits Black Water, and The Reef. Back in 2020, he decided to revisit his croc shock feature with the sequel, Black Water: Abyss. Now is the turn of the shark, with a delve back into the reef with a twist in the tale for The Reef: Stalked.
His hook is in telling the story of Nic (Teressa Liane), who is still in the breaches of surviving the trauma of her sister’s murder. Nic tries to reconnect with the world by submerging herself into an old pastime on a kayaking adventure with her younger sister, Annie (Saskia Archer), and her two friends, Jodie (Ann Truong) and Lisa (Kate Lister). Before long the predator of the ocean makes its presence known and begins to hunt them down without backing down once it latches onto their scent.
The topic of trauma is a gripping one and presents and interesting premise for Traucki to grapple with and I applaud him in dabbling in this terrain to weave together an incredible story about survival against the odds and placing it in a shark horror feature.
The premise, and the topic may have been a stretch too far to blend them together with a sense of ease, as too often the focus shifts on the unrest between the two siblings rather than the fear itself. It’s a tough balancing act, because you want to establish a connection with your audience by building on the characters’ exchange with one another. Unfortunately I felt that the dialogue and performances were waning; a crying shame as Traucki has proven up to the task before, especially in his feature debut, Black Water, thrusting his female protagonists played by Diana Glenn and Maeve Dermody through the ringer, with grit and determination.
The lack of grit is all too evident here, and the leads spar off each other from one scenario to the next without too much substance to wade through.
So what of the shark?
When it appears there are flashes of images to spark fear in the audience but it never comes across as sinister enough and murky as a result. The one moment where your heart spins for a moment, is when some children are caught in the mix with their life in the hands of fate. In this instance, you are willing for them to survive and here Traucki shows his hand at playing with the audience’s heartstrings. A sign that he still knows how to play that card and its not completely lost at sea.
Shark movies are always a tough gig to sell, and Andrew Traucki does his best to repeat his formula from his 2010 feature, The Reef with a notable and worthy attempt at looking at the impact of trauma.
I really wanted to like this film and champion homegrown Australian cinema but despite some notable moments, the result is a stretch too far with performances and dialogue not weighing up to the potential that a strong subject like trauma deserves.
The Reef: Stalked is released in Australian cinemas from Thursday 28th July.
Patrick, which was released back in 1978 sits firmly in the centre of the Ozploitation scene, a genre of Australian exploitation films that are filled with a mix of low-budget horror, comedy, sexploitation and action that wears its heart on its sleeve.
Directed by Richard Franklin under the penmanship of Everett De Roche (Long Weekend), Patrick could easily be dismissed as farcical but it’s precisely the absurd nature of the storyline that is its appeal.
The film opens with the titular Patrick (Robert Thompson – an actor who should be applauded for his ability to keep his eyes open for an elongated period of time) kills his parents in an oedipal act, throwing an electric heater into a bathtub.
Somehow Patrick ends up in a coma, something that is never fully explained, but is arguably irrelevant when it comes to the telling of the tale and to get said subject into the setting of choice, the Roget Clinic in Melbourne with all the hallmarks of the Bates house in Psycho. This is of no surprise as Franklin is a self-confessed fan of Hitchcock and would go onto direct Roadgames for his follow up feature, a film heavily inspired by the premise of Rear Window.
Franklin would even go to direct the sequel to Psycho in 1983.
We follow the film through eyes of nurse Kathie Jacquard (Susan Penhaligon) who is appointed at the hospital to look after Patrick and soon encounters that there more to her patient than meets the eye and that in spite of being physically bound to his bed, has learnt to explore other sensory means through the power of psychokinesis. Her infatuation with this discovery fuels Patrick’s own lustful desires towards Kathie and thus throws those nearest to her into his wrathful rage.
There are some notable support performances on show here that warrant recognition, namely the larger than life Robert Helpmann who plays Dr. Roget and hams up his role, injecting some much-needed melodrama into the mix and moulding the tone of the film despite Franklin’s efforts to tone it down. Equally Julia Blake’s Matron character is suitably insipid, casting a wonderfully dark light across the spectrum of the hospital; and Rod Mullinar who plays Kathie’s wayward husband in contrast to Bruce Barry’s egocentric and potential love interest Dr. Brian.
Perhaps one of the greatest things about this movie is Franklin’s depiction of male empowerment at the heart of the film. With Kathie seemingly trying to break down this impregnable barrier in her life, from her adulterous husband, the cocksure Dr. Brian, to the deranged Dr. Roget..Even Patrick himself who is incompacitated throughout the bulk of the film is trying to exert his will over Kathie, who must ultimately rise above this all.
Upon its release in Australia, Patrick did not receive the praise that it deserves but instead saw greater success abroad, but controversially was heavily dubbed Stateside, in spite of Franklin deliberately casting English actors to gain greater appeal abroad. The irony being that this very move is partly what isolated its homegrown audience.
Since then however it has reached a cult following and even gained a fan from acclaimed American director Quentin Tarantino.
For me, I went in expecting a certain kind of film, which it is, but was happily rewarded by the sheer enjoyment and direction.
It would go on to inspire a sequel in Italy called Patrick Still Lives and then more recently in 2013 a remake would transpire, the latter of which would star Charles Dance and Sharni Vinson (You’re Next) and serves as a double feature alongside the original in a current release by Umbrella Entertainment.
I gotta say that I was pleasantly surprised by Awoken. I had prejudiced this Horror, Mystery, Thriller on face value because of its quiet film release here in Australia where it premiered at the Adelaide Film Festival and has been subjected to the Straight to Home Entertainment release.
This is an unfair judgement on my behalf though, as Awoken is one of those admittedly middle-of-the-road movies, but it does just enough to keep you hooked and entertained to its conclusion, which is a testament to Director Daniel J. Phillips and his writing partner Alan Grace.
Phillips chooses to keep his setting simple, predominately in one location and in doing so, can heighten the tension surrounding his key players, whilst keeping the budget low.
HIs storytelling is also strong, flicking from past and present with the use of old medical tapes that the research team slowly trickle through to gain an understanding of what they are up against.
And the choice of subject matter in Fatal Familial Insomnia is also one that sparks the imagination of terror in us all as this disorder affects the thalamus, part of the brain structure that controls our emotional expression and can lead to lack of sleep and dementia.
With a select group of subjects, a small medical team, led by leading doctor, Robert (Erik Thomsen), go all flatliners and try to do some underground research in literally an underground laboratory in the hopes of finding a cure or a breakthrough to help those suffering from this condition. Robert has had previous experience in conducting similar experiments and serves as the chief advisor and patriarchal figure of the group.
Our lead protagonist, Karla (Sara West – Ash Vs Evil Dead) is one of these medical students, who’s brother Blake (Benson Jack Anthony – Cleverman) suffers from the genetic insomnia condition and is subjected to this observation trial. The clue here is in the genetics component as it its revealed that their mother also had the same condition and was subjected to similar medical trials.
It is through their studies though that things begin to escalate. Cut off from the world above and incredibly sleep deprived, both patients and medics alike begin to hallucinate.
Is this the instabilities of the mind though? Or is there demonic possession at play?
Awoken doesn’t break new ground in the realms of science vs religion and suspected demonic possession, but what it does do well is construct a tight knit, well crafted storyline that drip feeds the tension whilst building up the paranoia and uncertainty of reality.
Some of the effects are a bit tried and tested, falling into the fairly predictable terrain, but Director Daniel J. Phillips has carefully positioned the audience into a false sense of security and then dialling up the entertainment level, whilst spinning a strong thriller that poses all the right questions towards a highly amped ending.
The Faceless Man is an off-beat independent horror movie that is a boiling pot of subgenres with the Ozploitation era embedded firmly on its sleeve. Like any low-budget film it has its flaws but let’s focus on the positives first, because if anything this film has a lot of heart and is prepared to face one of life’s greatest fears head on.
For his debut feature, writer/director James Di Martino decided to tackle the subject of cancer as the faceless entity stalking its prey and pushing them to the edge of sanity. It’s a bold approach in a playing field that deserves a higher quality offering than what is on offer, but you can only work with the resources and materials you have at hand. Despite this, Di Martino still manages to eek out some spectacularly eerie moments peppered with some decent and dark humour along the way.
The tone of the film is deliciously macabre in places and these moments will resonate highly with any fan of the genre and even delivers great character actors in Roger Ward and Andy McPhee who do not disappoint in their respective roles.
The story centres on Emily (Sophie Thurling) as a cancer survivor in fear that she may fall sick once again who is driven by paranoia and a past that haunts her. So when presented with a weekend away with her friends, she sees it as a way to get away from her troubles, but fate has other plans in store.
Characteristically speaking, Di Martino provides a suitably quirky and unsettling movie which suffers a little from some performances and too many right turns in the plotline. What it does promise is a director with a vision, who with the right tools could produce some decent storylines in the future. Definitely a name to look out for.
Luke Shanahan’s directorial feature debut, Rabbit is a stellar example of what Australians do well, Dark and gritty drama.
The difference though is that Rabbit is not just grit for grit’s sake, but a compelling and captivating drama that lures you in and ensnares you to the bitter end.
The concept is a simple one, Maude Ashton wakes from a vivid dream that compels her to return home and find her missing twin sister.
The journey she takes to find her though is a far from simple one as Maude must listen to her instincts and psychic intuition through a twisted labyrinth of trauma and despair.
Shanahan has a gift for tapping into the psychological aspects of the human mind and weaving together an intriguing narrative that in lesser hands could lead you up the garden path with no purpose or direction laid down. Shanahan’s screenplay takes you by the hand and directs you with purpose.
I also want to applaud the acting accolades of the two women in this film; the lead Adelaide Clemens who plays Maude and her twin shows great depth in her character, and Veele Baetens as Nerida who is harbouring a troubled past that she displays with great restrain beneath the surface. Both their performances were incredibly rewarding to watch and keeps you engaged throughout the movie.
Rabbit is a quality psychological drama that keeps you entranced and could very well prove to be the sleeper hit of the year.
Cargo is a zombie film – supposedly filled with gore, scary bits, and tension. Which it is. However, unlike your stereotypical low budget Z movie, Cargo has some real, raw emotions presented by all the characters; accompanied by some absolutely stunning shots of rural Australia. Some scenes in this film are beautiful – human beautiful and scenic beautiful.
It starts with a family of 3, Andy (Martin Freeman), Kay (Susie Porter) and their baby daughter Rosie (played by something like 4 separate babies, because child labour laws exist for a reason).
We find our threesome slowly flowing down a waterway on a riverboat, which (it is soon implied) is not theirs (ie: they’ve knicked it). They then discover another young family camping on shore, with the father being played by Andy Rodoreda; the actor who portrayed Martin Freeman’s character in the original Tropfest short that THIS film is based on.
Which must have been a weird experience for him, but if he wanted to hold onto his part, he should have been more famous. Its called show business and not show charity for a reason…
Anyway – from Andy & Kay’s dialogue and various other tell-tale signs – like Rodoreda threatening Freeman off with a gun (probably because he stole his role…) we get the impression an apocalypse of the Z kind has happened, and humanity is hanging by a thread with survivors quickly running out of options.
That’s when “the incident” happens (which you just KNEW it would) that changes everything between Andy and Kay (and their daughter). And soon incredibly tough decisions of the “what would you sacrifice” kind have to be made. What would you do? And perhaps more importantly…what wouldn’t you do…?
It is this theme that fuels the movie, and it takes a powerful performance to pull it off. With Freeman they get it.
Set against the backdrop of Australia’s unique beauty, it is clear that a lot of thought has gone into the cinematography. From a native plant in the corner of the screen, to the sun accentuating the features of the actors; every frame is truly a painting.
Cargo is a well thought out, beautiful, tension filled zombie film that will do something very few horror flicks can, because whilst the best ones make you scared or tense, very few can also make you cry. Cargo will do all three.