I really wanted to champion this movie. After all, not only is it a homegrown movie and for this Surgeons of Horror love to support where we can; and it also boasts Cassandra Magrath (Wolf Creek) as its lead protagonist.
Unfortunately the story falls short of expectations, lost in the murkiness of the folklore that it was trying to create and one can’t help but feel that it is the writing that is lacking in depth or clarity.
It’s not like Australia is incapable of producing witchery or the dark arts with investigation and mystery. One need only look at the fantastic series The Gloaming written by Vicky Madden to see what it takes to do this with a contemporary feel and to do it well. Sure, this was worked into a series with ample time to allow the characters to acquire the depth needed to dive into the enigma, but that feels like an easy out as what transpires out of The Witches of Blackwood lacks anything solid for the audience to grab onto and as such, we lose interest quite swiftly.
Haunted by an incident while on duty as a police officer, Claire (Magrath) returns to her old stomping ground to heal old wounds and new ones following the wake of her mother’s death. When she arrives in Blackwood however, she is met with ill-feeling and strange encounters from the locals. This leads her to find her inner sleuth once more, to uncover what people are hiding and revelations that will test her will.
I thought that Magrath was compelling in this and given the chance to show off her acting abilities that have have been left to the wind in other recent movies. Director Kate Whitbread carves out some beautiful moments to highlight the harsh yet beautiful landscape that Australia has to offer, but without any real substance, the film simply can’t lift itself out of the quagmire, sinking into a shallow plot.
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 film opens with what feels like a notable nod to Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat as we are greeted with a group of survivors floating in a life raft, having escaped from their torpedoed hospital ship. They have no food, no water, and are close to giving up when a small thread of hope arrives in the shape of a German U-Boat, but what lies aboard is a descent into hell where the battle of survival has just begun.
Like Lifeboat, the group are at odds with one another and suspicious of some among them including Russian POW, Alexander (Alex Cooke), who happens to be a crack shot with a rifle and probably the most natural survivalist of the crew. Also casting a dubious past to his character is the token Brit, the weedy Gerard Faraday. Leading the charge is Nathan Sinclair (Nathan Philips) who captivates the viewer with his magnanimous presence and die hard attitude, but when they are faced with an unknown evil presence onboard the ship, they must learn to put aside their differences and look to unite if they are ever going to make it through “this bloody war”.
It is Alyssa Sutherland (Vikings), that the audience really gets behind however as the heart of the crew and it helps that she is a ‘medic” who has a pained past with a desire to heal everyone. She really captures the attention which is a testament to her on screen appeal and her weight as an actor, pulling you into the storyline and connecting with her character.
This is also a huge accomplishment of Justin Dix’s cinematic gaze for his sophomore outing in the director’s chair. Dix manages to craft a highly engaging storyline, that is essentially vampires on a boat, using his incredible skill set with visual and creature effects to boost the appeal above and beyond the usual fanfare. The screenplay which is also overseen by Dix and his co-writer, Jordan Prosser, weave together enough ups and downs and moments of turmoil for the crew, as they fight against the odds. A massive plus is that we’re presented with characters that are incredibly believable, and with whom you want to see survive, when you know in your heart simply ain’t gonna happen, and in doing so casts you at odds as you also secretly want their demise to come.
Hands down, Director Justin Dix has crafted a highly engaging, action-packed thrill ride with characters that you care for.
Combined with some decent effects and a creative storyline, Dix has in my humble opinion put himself and his production company Wicked of Oz firmly on the map. A must see film that will definitely entertain.
Available on DVD at JB Hi Fi and Sanity and Video on Demand through iTunes/Google /Fetch/Foxtel Store/Umbrella Entertainment from August 5th.
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.
Today we learnt of an exciting new project that is shooting in Northern NSW, Australia which could herald another strong story that exposes the dark underbelly of our Great Southern Land. Australia has been slowly carving out some disturbing tales of late such as the fantastic Hounds of Love,Killing Ground, Rabbit, and Lost Gully Road, all released within the last couple of years and well worth your time.
Described as a psychological thriller, Sweet River is set in between Byron Bay and Tweed Heads, a land filled with sugar cane farms, that can grow up to 16 metres in height and potentially ripe enough to harbour secrets within. It’s a beautiful part of the world, so expect some stunning shots from Justin McMillan (Storm Surfers 3D), who also co-owns a drone company.
The story unfolds with Hanna Montague (Lisa Kay – Indian Summers) who is on a quest for closure following the death of her son, and moves to a small cottage, but is confronted by a town hell-bent on hiding its secrets. She is united in her grief with her neighbour (Genevieve Lemon) who has also lost a child in tragic circumstances, but how far into their sorrow are they willing to go in order to uncover the truth?
Also starring Martin Sacks (Wentworth, A Place To Call Home), Sweet River promises to set the mystery that lurks beyond the shadows ablaze, and deliver a tale that could have devastating consequences.
It is expected to be released in 2020 through Film Ink Presents.
Mike Green has been gradually building on his film credentials with a series of screenplays and work as 1st AD on a number of high profile films including Truth starring Cate Blanchet and Robert Redford. Now he has turned his attention to directing his first feature length movie, Outback, a tale of survival in the heart of Australia, and casts a bewildered and fractured American couple in the midst of this savage land.
Before its Sydney screening as part of Monsterfest Australia on Sat 2 Nov at 9pm, Mike sat down with the surgeons team to discuss his journey and his own challenges in creating his vision.
Mike Green interview:
What initially drew you to the story behind Lisa and Wade’s outback plight?
Well, I had a proper budget feature that I was hoping to make with a cast attached and building a team and then Nicole Kidman announced Angel of Mine which on the surface sounded very much like our feature film project. That really pulled the rug beneath our feet and I had a small window of time in which to shoot something because my wife was going back to work from maternity leave and a little bit of money saved on my credit card. So I essentially reverse engineered something I could shoot in a compressed amount of time. And 10 days is what we shot Outback in. So I took a familiar story which was Open Water, the two people that get stranded in the ocean. I thought about taking that situation and placing them in the outback. Limiting your cast means limiting so much of the production, so it was essentially going to be a two-hander. Everyone has a perception of the Australian outback and how vast and dry it is, how it’s filled with critters and creepy crawlies. So I took that idea and instead of having a serial killer or madman as the antagonist, I made Australia and the outback, the antagonist. No one has done a film called Outback which was surprising to me. So I put it all in a blender and out came a two-hander about this couple of Americans and the dynamic between them in a survival thriller with this tragic love story, and place them in a scenario that sees them stranded in the outback.
There is a lot of weight on the shoulders of the two leads, Lauren Lofberg and Taylor Wiese to carry the film. How did you get them to tap into the gravitas of their situation?
The first thing I needed to do when casting was have the right face, character, and persona for the parts, so after reaching out to a few people I spoke to Lauren, who despite her small showreel had something there, but she was looking to do something substantial and put a stamp on something. She put a few self tapes down and she was really emotional and she was going through some things at the time, which I asked with her blessing if I could weave into the storyline because it was something so personal to her and we knew that she could tap into that so easily and access those emotional time stones.
What do you think fascinates us about human survival?
I think there is this primeval situation where you would ask yourself, “what would I do?” It doesn’t take much for the audience to be there with them. The performance and environment helped from a cinematic perspective. You often hear stories of how even locals get lost for two or three days in the Blue Mountains for example, and things can get pretty gnarly quickly. Even with the best intentions and with a phone on you, when you start to get dehydrated, what seems like a smart decision, upon reflection is like, “what was I thinking?”
What has been the most enduring thing that you’ve encountered in your lifetime? Have you had much experience of the outback yourself and what impact did this beautifully vast location have on production.
For me taking from the theme of the movie of not taking tomorrow for granted, was a way into the storyline. From the plot and survival aspect, I used to go to the outback a lot as a kid with a mate who had a property. We were in a couple of situations where we ran out of water and we didn’t have a compass, and when you are out there, you don’t really have any sense of direction other than which way the sun is going. He’d been on the land a bit and I was more of a city slicker, and I remember him saying the mathematical equation that I use in the film, and he knew from my answers that I was dehydrated even though I wasn’t aware of it. I could have been in a lot of trouble if it wasn’t for him and his experience on the land.
What would you say was your toughest challenge during filming?
I’m first AD, I’m producing, I’m catering, like I’m cooking at night, I’m printing off the schedule for the next day for the crew and everyone is working so hard, so you have to lead by example. In that environment and working such long hours in the heat, working so intimately with such a tight-knit crew, It’s not always rosy and part of having such a good team is allowing people to let off steam in certain ways. The toughest thing was keeping everyone emotionally and physically on the same page in what we were trying to do. You’re really fathering a group of people, in the most beautiful way.
What do you think or hope that people will take home after watching Outback?
I’m hoping the audience reflect on their own life and how they can embrace the day or the moment, whether that’s with their family, career, or just life itself, and appreciate it. I know that sounds a bit arty farty, but being in Australia, there shouldn’t be anyone whinging really. Any kind of developed country, I know there has been some bad things that have happened, but each to their own I guess.
Now that your first feature film is released into the festival circuit, what was the biggest learning you will take and what is next on the horizon?
I think the biggest learning for me is to keep making stuff, It’s not always going to click but you should be getting better when you make stuff and that’s the key to improving. It’s that old adage, “Practice, practice, practice”. In regards to what’s next, I’m working with a bunch of writers I kinda wanna be aggressive and get projects made and being prolific.
During filming of Australian western The Proposition, British actor Ray Winstone once remarked that every living thing in this country was out to kill you. It’s this component that director Mike Green wanted to paint of his homeland to evoke that sense of fear and dread in the vast open plain.
Instead of having a serial killer or madman as the antagonist, I made Australia and the outback, the antagonist”
We often vision Australia as this serene, beautiful land which on the surface casts one of the most majestic scenes that our planet offers, but if you delve deep enough, you find the hidden dangers lurking in plain sight. Green lures us into the desert terrain through the eyes of an American couple on what should have been a romantic adventure, but like the land in which they set out to explore, Lisa (Lauren Lofsberg) and Wade (Tyler Wiese) are just as fractured and unpredictable.
We join Lisa and Wade at the start of their journey from Sydney Airport where we learn that Lisa has rejected Wade’s marriage proposal. The result finds the couple disconnected and searching for each other to see whether the relationship is worth fighting for. In doing so, they become lost and insignificant in a foreign land. Testament to Green’s writing skills should be mentioned as he draws out some well-developed characters in his leads which is fleshed out with some fantastic performances. This is a good thing as between them they need to carry the movie with very little other characters to interact with. By the film’s conclusion, we really care about their outcome, because Green has taken the time for us to connect and care for them both.
The choices that Lisa and Wade that lead them to their ordeal are born out of ignorance and naivety but their decisions that are believable and in the moment, as they try to navigate their way to survival whilst facing a number of dangers along the way from snakes and scorpions, to searing heat and dehydration. All of which surmount into a gripping, heart-wrenching drama that captivates right to the end.
Director Mike Green takes the audience on a brutal and harsh journey of survival through the lens of an American couple on the brink of collapse. The gritty realism along with excellent performances helps lift this movie and casts a blistering light on the savage land with a narrative that keeps you hooked and willing the characters to endure their torment and live to tell their tale.
Outback will be screening atMonsterfest Australia 2019, where cast and crew will be available for a Q&A post film screening time below:
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.
Steven Kastrissios takes us deep into modern Albania for his sophomore outing in the director’s chair.
Paving his way into the horror scene, Kastrissios turned heads with his debut feature, The Horseman, partly for hits ‘extreme violence’ but also for his ability to not shy away from the harsh society that is infused throughout the films narrative.
With Bloodlands, the subject of vengeance is once again at the forefront of Kastrissios storytelling, a subject that seems close to his heart.
In this instance, we are faced with a family struggling to make ends meet and with conflicting interests pulling at their innermost desires. It is only when confronted with a blood feud set by a witch and her mysterious clan that the family must unite and stand together against a common enemy in a brutal fight for survival.
Recently Bloodlands took out 3 awards at A Night of Horror Film Festival for Best Foreign Language Film; Best Australian Film; and Best Australian Director, and one can see why as it this tale of mythology and highly tense drama is a refreshing sight against the anarchy and gore that has been presented of late on our screens.
Cinematographer, Leander Ljarja beautifully captures the Albanian landscape, and Kastrissios slow burn direction allows the tension to build steadily to keep the viewer gripped to its gritty conclusion.
It just feels a shame that the characters feel so two-dimensional in places and this makes the strong concept and themes lost in what would have been thoroughly engaging piece had more care and attention centred on this area.
As such, there are no real shock moments, and the path becomes a predictable one as a result.
A slow-burn horror that is reminiscent of The Hills Have Eyes in tone, but is embedded with Albanian culture, which adds a new flavour to the horror scene. A rewarding watch despite some character flaws.
Musclecar is a rampage of mayhem that shifts through the gears to a new level of cult Ozploitation.
It’s an Aussie oddball film and one not to be missed if you like a bit of a laugh.
Alrighty, let me paint the picture for you. B grade film maker Bambi (Jacinta Stapleton, Neighbours) spends her last 10k on her dream car before finding out the grant for her new film has been cancelled… dun DUN DUNN.
She’s left with a shiny new big red car and no money to run it. With the help of an admirer, Randy, Bambi resorts to murdering drunken men before using their blood to run her car… an obvious alternative to picking up a few extra shifts at Coles and hitting up her local SHELL.
The film has you on edge from the get go. Perhaps it’s the inherent objectaphillia, or Bambi’s revved up ringtone, or maybe even the way she hooks up a human heart to the engine of the car… hmm.
Nevertheless, Dwayne Labbé has creepy down pat. The insanity builds throughout the 75- minute saga enough to wrap up the film with a satisfying bang.
Murderers who just kill their victims and don’t do anything weird with them is sooo last Wednesday.
Musclecar’s main fuel is the animated comic-book style panels that are used to separate or punctuate scenes. It makes me think that it could have been as effective, if not more so, if the entire film were animated.
The art really accentuates the genre and really sells its comedic layer. The absurd plot could not have survived if it didn’t stand by its funnies.
Musclecar won’t intrinsically change you, or make you wish that your car came to life, but it makes for an entertaining hour and a bit…
The perfect fuel for a night in to drain your mind and feed your soul.