Starring three of Australia’s most promising up-and-coming actors, this Aussie-American co-production is an unapologetic and surprisingly twisted nasty that sees its tween cast doing and saying things that kids just shouldn’t be… err, doing or saying.
CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL REVIEW AT THE REEL WORD.
TARNATION is Armstrong's fourth feature-length film following his wonderful Murderdrome, From Parts Unknown and Sheborg Massacre, and in my mind it qualifies as his best. Taking all of its cues from Evil Dead, the film pays a reassured homage to Raimi's iconic movie and exploits the familiar set-up with an abundance of unexpected twists and turns, all of which make it identifiably Armstrongic (I made that word up and I am not afraid to use it).
The story follows Oscar, a British rocker chick who is simultaneously kicked out of her band and dumped by her boyfriend. Her roommate convinces her to tag along for a weekend in the woods, at a shabby cabin with a saucy hot tub, and no sooner do they arrive and they are preyed upon by a demon unicorn and a satanic cult hellbent on raising the devil. A night of blood-soaked mayhem ensues as demonic corpses chomp at flesh, winged cherubs swoop from above, and diabolical rappers taunt our heroine. Needless to say TARNATION is a deliberately mad-capped exploit of cliché, tropes and platitudes, and makes no apologies.
What makes Armstrong's work so distinguishable is his reassured visceral mastery. Working on a micro-budget, he relies on his own creative know-how – along with the skills of his crew – and understands how to paint the screen with maximum effect. With a reliable amount of smoke and an abundance of colour, his production design pivots on smart composition and ingenuity. It's clear that Armstrong's vision is engrained into the script, and the result is a beautifully handled horror movie which showcases an indispensable team-effort, including everyone from the director himself to his cast, crew and all others involved.
The cabin location, as well as it's terrific interiors, are brilliantly conceived and give the story its focal point. Their rustic and decrepit textures enhance the production value and allow the lighting design to bounce shadows and colours in all kinds of cool and kooky ways. The kaleidoscope of fluorescent colours, having no practical purpose other than adding to the surrealism - create a fantasy that serves the horror perfectly. This is the definition of bang-for-buck guerilla filmaking!
The performances are wonderful with many of the players returning from previous outings. Daisy Masterman headlines the movie as Oscar, and with a fantastic Wonder Woman-inspired costume design, she kick-ass with style and commands the screen with authority. The supporting cast are all good and embrace the nature of the material. Danae Swinburn is an obvious stand-out as the sex-crazed roommate who gets turned into one of the undead. She relishes the horror and amps her performance up to eleven, and inevitably adds a whole lot more fun to the mix.
Forty years ago TARNATION would have played to cinema audiences and carved a niche during that legendary period of Ozploitation, but now that the market is swamped with streaming services, cable networks and a cesspool of illegal platforms, it will be lucky to find a small DVD release before falling into obscurity. With this in mind it's all the more important to rally behind filmmakers like Daniel Armstrong and support what they do. Theirs is a creative force driven by passion, for love of the craft, and certainly not for any sort of financial gain. GET SOME!
TARNATION HAS ITS WORLD PREMIERE AT MONSTER FEST (MELB) ON NOV 24.
When a grizzled woman and her daughter appear at his door one morning an uneasy dynamic is formed and the suspicious trio find their shaky bond tested even further when ravagers discover the farm, as well as its inhabitants and the crops.
There's more than a shade of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend and The Omega Man in this one. In fact the title character isn't too far removed from I Am Legend's Robert Neville. He's an industrious man who has learned how to forage and farm, to hunt and survive, where the simplest tasks we take for granted become matters of the greatest importance. He lives a life filled with fear and paranoia but instead of the ruins of a metropolis The Survivalist exists in nature.
There's no two ways about it, THE SURVIVALIST is pretty gnarly stuff. It's a grim, heavy experience. Everything is stripped back; the score which is largely left to diegetic sources, the lack of characters, the drained colour palette, the ability for emotional connections, humanity and empathy, all gone the way of civilisation. Even the dialogue is as sparse as the people who populate the film. Indeed, THE SURVIVALIST is almost a silent film, with long periods of time sustained with nobody talking to each other, even when there's murderous intent.
Which leads to Fingleton displaying a control over the material, which is uncommon for a debuting director. He has a confidence and understanding of his film that means the viewer is only ever where he wants them to be at any given stage. His use of story point-of-view is quite remarkable. The physicality of his direction means that, no matter how complex the characters psychology or motivations are, the viewer is never left in any doubt what is going on.
It's never a particularly easy watch but THE SURVIVALIST is always riveting. A classically themed science fiction that is too savage for the mainstream, but will no doubt gain a cult following.
I was looking forward to this new chapter as much as the next gore-hound, and my sickly heart was prepared for a flagrant exercise in stupidity... but what I got was a truly dumb, half-assed rehash that feigned originality and cashed in on creativity.
Most fans would agree that James Wan and Leigh Whannell's original SAW was a modern horror masterpiece, which stands on its own as a bonafide classic. And most fans are also prepared to conceded to its sequels with the promise of a fun and ingenious franchise. With each instalment came a new assembly of kills, each one as sick and twisted as the last, and the series offered a villain who earned his place amongst horror royalty. Of course they became progressively more ludicrous and the plausibility (within the realms of it's established universe) was stretched to the max.
And so we arrive at JIGSAW (I guess the elaborated title is supposed to freshen things up) and what a stinker it is. From its poorly written opening scene, to its ludicrous police-procedural structure and every mechanical kill in between... with its stodgy performances and its uninspired set pieces, the movie equates to a cinematic death-rattle.
This is an unfortunate turn of event for the Australian Spierig Brothers (Predestination, Daybreakers & Undead) who have, until this point, proven to be a couple of genre legends. Their previous work is inspired and audacious, and bares no resemblance to the lacklustre nonsense they offer us here. One can hope that they aligned themselves with a bankable franchise purely in order to cement a handsome deal on a future project, such as their upcoming film Winchester: The House That Ghosts Built starring Helen Mirren... They certainly bring nothing new to the Saw table and their input into the series is daft.
SAW is a series that helped define the modern term “Torture Porn” (an evolution of “Video Nasty”) and with eight instalments comes an expectation that it will up-the-ante. But not only does it tone down the gore, it damn-well flinches away from it. There's a lot of deception at play here with too much horrible stuff happening off-screen, and audiences are right to feel ripped off. Oh and the story and its revelations are fucking stupid too... but no spoilers here (see for yourself if you're so inclined).
Some fans will celebrate the return of SAW without considering its merits (or lack thereof) while others will raise an eyebrow and wonder what happened to all of the good stuff? (that's me).
Suburbicon is Clooney’s sixth outing as helmer and it is his clunkiest offering to date. Opening with a classic 1950’s land-development commercial, the film establishes its period effectively and spreads a wholesome gloss across the screen. We are taken back to “simpler times” when neighbourhoods were full of families and safe places to live. Kids played in yards and the postman knew everyone’s name. And then, within the blink of an eye, we are reminded that what may have been “simpler times” for some, were awful and oppressive times for others.
CLICK HERE TO READ FULL REVIEW AT THE REEL WORD.
When's the last time a third instalment in a franchise was superior to its predecessors? Never. And that's precisely what THOR RAGNAROK is! In fact it is immediately better, and the tone of the film is set within seconds. We are re-introduced to Thor as he is suspended above the fiery pits of Mespelheim by the fire demon Surtur. None to concerned about his predicament, Thor does what he does best and with a kick-ass Led Zeppelin soundtrack he swings his mighty hammer and lays rest to countless monsters. And from the moment the THOR title card slams on to the screen, all all bets are off and a new type of Thor movie is established.
Taking massive cues from Guardians of the Galaxy, this new chapter sees the Marvel property reinvigorated with a sorely needed dose of humour, while simultaneously progressing the pre-established storyline. This is not a feat that the old school of Hollywood seem able to wrangle, as demonstrated by Kenneth Branagh and Alan Taylor in the first two films, but it is a challenge that the new school are completely equiped for. Repeat after me “80's, 80's, 80's”. With cinema currently experiencing a wave of 1980's nostalgia, it is the children of that era who have grown up and are reliving their youth. And to the delight of audiences they are injecting their affection into modern cinema in a way that that is both exciting and strangely sentimental... even if it is becoming a little too commonplace.
Frivolity is exactly what the Thor franchise needed and Waititi has delivered in spades. The story mostly takes place on Thor's home planet of Asgard, as well as the planet Sakaar which is a dumping ground – of sorts – where species from farther realms find themselves stranded after being consumed by the planet's neighbouring wormhole. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) becomes captive (again) by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) who rules the planet with a childlike obsession with games. He forces Thor into a gladiator-like battle, whereby the loser dies. To Thor's delight his opponent is HULK, and after a long dual followed by an arduous identity crisis they re-team along with a group of renegade allies to return to Asgard to defeat the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchette).
It is a convoluted synopsis on paper, but rest assured it unfolds simply and proves to be one of the most adventurous and side-splitting chapters in the entire Marvel Universe. Waititi's direction is on-point and with a considerable amount of creative control he has also managed to place a basket of easter eggs throughout the film for his Australasian friends at home. From spaceships being named after Holden cars (The Commodore, The Statesman & Torana) to an Indigenous flag-inspired colour design, and a rock monster with an affectionate Maori accent (voiced by Waititi himself). It is fair to say that THOR RAGNAROK is a smorgasbord of in-jokes and references for those nerdy enough to identify, and with a whole lot of other stuff that's best left secret (you're welcome) there's never been a more Aussie-centric and appealing superhero movie (it was also shot in Oz... but I'm sure you know that).
Every performance is perfectly measured, and all players have embraced the comedic nature of the script. Hemsworth is in his element and reveals a new side to Thor that comic-book geeks might have feared (they can rest easy). He is joined by Mark Ruffalo who also nails his comic timing, as well as revealing a smidgen of drama. The rest of the supporting cast includes the return of Tom Hiddleston Idris Elba and Anthony Hopkins, who are joined by Marvel newcomers Jeff Goldblum, Cate Blanchett, Karl Urban and Tessa Thompson... there's also a slathering of unexpected appearances, some appearing briefly and others in a larger capacity. Again, this is a movie full of surprises.
So what now? THOR RAGNAROK has re-energised the series, but can it be repeated? James Gunn attempted to recapture the magic of Guardians in Vol 2 to a somewhat lacklustre effect. That impact of the original's humour was lost in the sequel, with the element of surprise all but gone. So too could be the fate of another Thor sequel. We've been treated to such a spectacle, with such a delicious flavour, that to go another round might risk bursting the bubble. Given that I disliked the first two movies so much, I would be entirely content leaving it be. Three is enough, and what a way to close!
I am cautious of any low budget movie with “incident”, “project”, “experiment” or “encounter” in the title and so THE GRACEFIELD INCIDENT was an immediate red flag, and were it not for an appealing poster I probably wouldn't have given it a second thought... but I'm glad that I did. The film presented a fresh take on the genre (well, fresher anyway) and my inherent snobbery was exposed.
A video game designer, Matthew, loses his eye in a horrific car accident, and during his recovery he designs a hi-def micro-camera inside a prosthetic eyeball. Naturally this allows him to record everything his missing eye would have seen. It's a stupid idea when you stop and think about it, but for the sake of something different within the genre, it's an easy idiocy to ignore. A year later Matthew and his friends spend a weekend at a luxurious cabin where they witness a meteorite crash in the nearby woods. Naturally they venture out into the darkness to investigate and find themselves being hunted by an alien.
As with almost every entry in the found-footage genre, THE GRACEFIELD INCIDENT is another Blair Witch-inspired thriller that exploits every trick in the trade and rehashes the same concept. But what it offers in addition to the usual gimmickry is an intriguing first person point-of-view perspective, and an accomplished use of special effects. The concept of some guy with a camera-eye is dumb, but it nevertheless gives this story an alternative focal point that provides the filmmaker an excuse to reduce his use of hand-held 'shaky-cam' (which is a welcome point of difference).
The expected jump-scares are riddled throughout the movie, and they are executed with precision. But director (and lead actor) Matheiue Ratthe also uses a slow suspense method of terror, which gives his film a much needed advantage over other entries in the genre. For example, the audience is well aware of the lurking figure behind. We see those terrifying alien hands rising up above the character's shoulders... and we are well ahead of the poor fools on screen. And this was, for me, a refreshing tweak on the overdone tropes of so many movies before it.
The acting leaves a lot to be desired, and there isn't a convincing performance to be seen. A lot of the rules of the found-footage genre have also been abandoned (intentionally, or not?) which detracts from what is otherwise a skilful and impressive little film. But... but but but... given the fact that THE GRACEFIELD INCIDENT is a first time feature length film from an emerging independent filmmaker, it's an impressive and engaging chiller. The special effects are the real saving grace and I would recommend the movie for all inspiring filmmakers on how to get bang-for-buck.
The latest offering is 1922, based on a novella from King’s anthology book Full Dark, No Stars. The plot follows a down-trodden Nebraskan corn farmer, Wilfred (Thomas Jane), who plots the murder of his wife (Molly Parker) and manipulates his son, Henry (Dylan Schmid), to help. The land’s title is in the wife’s name and she wants to sell up and move to the city, but when Wilfred and Henry refuse to leave… they ply her with alcohol and hack her to death in her sleep.
CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL REVIEW AT THE REEL WORD.
Twelve-year-old Cole (Judah Lewis, Point Break) is the only kid in his neighbourhood with a babysitter. But he doesn’t mind because she’s a super cool, totally hot teenager who has his back when local bullies bring him down. Her name is Bee (Samara Weaving, Ash vs Evil Dead) and on this particular weekend she’s tasked by Cole’s parents to look after him while they’re away. After Cole’s bedtime she invites a group of friends over, who participate in a game of spin-the-bottle, and with Cole spying on them from the top of the stairs, their night takes a sudden turn that sets in motion a night of murder, mayhem and gore.
CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL REVIEW AT THE REEL WORD.
The series has been steered in various directions over its course, and where the first three instalments towed a serious horror/slasher line, the rebranded sequels took a comical approach and did away with the “Child's Play” moniker, focusing on the “of Chucky” handle instead... Bride of Chucky offered a quirky, yet sinister story while Seed of Chucky busted it's nut on the comedy. It was a miscalculation that threatened to derail the franchise and as far as worried fans were concerned, it was the end of the line. And then after a 9-year hiatus the series creator Don Mancini returned with Curse of Chucky and brought the damn thing back to life again. And much to the audience's delight, he returned to its horror roots, crafting a dark and twisted nightmare.
And so we arrive at Cult of Chucky, the latest instalment, which picks up where the previous movie left off, and sees the return of Andy Barclay, the 6-year old boy from the first two movies (his character was also in number 3, played by Justin Whalin). The original actor, Alex Vincent reprises his role (he briefly appeared in Curse) as an adult Andy and helps bring the series back to it's true Child's Play roots. And the result is a strangely hypnotic descent into psychoville, where nothing is what it seems and genre-tropes are flagrantly exploited.
Following the events of Curse of Chucky, Nica Pierce (Fiona Dourif) finds herself committed to a psychiatric hospital, where everyone is convinced that she is a deranged killer. Meanwhile Andy Barclay lives a reclusive life in a remote cabin, knowing that Chucky's rampage isn't over. Throughout the course of the film our sadistic plastic friend breaks into the asylum and sets upon killing the patients, of course, but not before fucking with their heads. It is a silly but violent outing that adheres to the horror origins of the series while injecting some of that humour back into the fray. The story arch holds a lot of revelations and to reveal too much would be to spoil the fun for those who haven't seen it. And it IS a lot of fun!
It has to be noted that CULT OF CHUCKY is very dumb. The asylum setting alone is all too stupid, with it looking like some sort of archetypal 19h century loony bin. And for all of its size and grandeur, there appears to be only half a dozen patients verses three actual staff members (the precise amount of humans to facilitate the story, and probably as many as the budget could bare). But of course who are we to give a shit about such things? We came to see a killer doll and we expect to see murder! And to that note, CULT delivers in spades.
This instalment, like the one before it (and each before the other) is unlike any Child's Play movie we've seen yet, and it is Don Mancini's “never repeat oneself” mantra that makes this one of the most enduring horror franchises of them all. Where other horror properties have racked up countless instalments, none of them have had the original creator steering every move throughout, nor have they been so bold as to present each chapter in new and refreshing ways. And while none of the individual films push the genre into new places, they do embrace different horror sub-genres and exploit those tropes to the max. Where CURSE gave us a haunted-house inspired thriller, CULT takes a stab as the loony bin story. Furthermore Mancini has upped the ante and made his latest outing the most gruesome of them all. It is a deliciously grotesque and gratuitously gory Chucky movie that will delight fans of the series and the genre alike.
Brad Dourif returns as the voice of Chucky, and relishes every morsel. Despite being 67-years old he shows no signs of slowing down and he delivers Chucky's lines as enthusiastically as he did in 1988. Alex Vincent's return is a very welcome adage to the series and he resumes the role comfortably. He seems to be comfortable on screen and hopefully he'll stick around for a few more turns. And of course Fiona Dourif fits in with the series nicely. Her on-screen persona bares an eerie resemblance to her co-starring father which, needless to say, is made for horror. And come to think of it her place within the mental asylum, along with her familiar expressions, recalls her dad's incredible performance in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. And then there's Jennifer Tilly... sigh (read in to that how you will).
What matters is that CHUCKY lives on... and the series has become a fan-service franchise, where outsiders need not apply. Long-serving fans will eat up all of its gnarly treats, and they will celebrate the return of a horror icon. They will relish the wonderful set design and express a sign of relief knowing that Mancini does away with his reliance on CGI (as flaunted in CURSE). Most of the film's effects are achieved practically and the movie proves that there is plenty of juice left in the tank. It shows no signs of slowing down and, of course, the post-credits teaser promises an absolutely KICK ASS eighth instalment. Yes please!
Perhaps the most well regarded if these is Darren Aronofsky's 2008 Mickey Rourke kickstarter, THE WRESTLER, a low budget affair that garnered both its stars Oscar nods and a few more years of paid work. A fictional narrative that blurred the lines between fiction and reality while always hinging on perhaps the only thing that traversed the two worlds; raw emotion.
It's no surprise that others should try and emulate Aronofsky's success, JCVD most notably, casting has-beens as has-beens with a wink and a nod and a tongue in the cheek. And more often that not those aping the formula have a legitimate legacy to capitalise on and exploit.
Then up pops Ryan Phillippe in his directorial debut. You remember Ryan Phillippe. He was the other guy in I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER and 54. He was the baby-face heart-throb that tried being a tough guy in THE WAY OF THE GUN. Sure, you remember Ryan Phillippe. The guy who is currently starring in the Netflix TV remake of Antoine Fuqua's SHOOTER. Of course you remember Ryan Phillippe.
So here he is, directing, starring and writing his own film as a washed-up actor who gets kidnapped in the back woods of Louisianna by some disgruntled cajun's. He is chained to a pipe, abused for 90-minutes, and taunted with 'gators for something he claims he didn't do. A curious redemption story, right? If, indeed, it IS actually a self-conscious nod at a redemption story. Because it may simply be a wildly good time. Which, thankfully, it is.
Shot in 2014 it's inexplicably taken 3-years for CATCH HELL to reach our shores and it's a shame, because it is a tidy little film. Phillippe is, obviously, giving it all he's got in front and behind the camera. The bayou locations are humid and steamy and authentic and the threat feels very real, even if we have seen it a dozen times before (see UNKNOWN, SAW, FIVE FINGERS, ALBINO ALLIGATOR, DELIVERANCE, etc).
There's some fun to be had if you don't mind the dank, sleazy turgid kinda stuff and for all its nastiness it's a relatively undemanding watch, purely because it is so derivative. Is it great? No, not even close. Is it competent? Yes, it is very assured. Does it show promise for Phillippe as a film maker? Absolutely! Let's see what this washed-up former pretty-boy will do next.
CATCH HELL IS AVAILABLE ON DVD THROUGH EAGLE ENTERTAINMENT.
Set in the year 1987 a young teenage girl, Vicki, (Ashleigh Cummings, Puberty Blues) sneaks out of her mother's house to attend a nearby party. Along the way she is offered dope by a friendly couple (Stephen Curry, The King and Emma Booth, Gods of Egypt) who are driving by. She reluctantly agrees and they invite her into their home with the promise of scoring weed, alcohol to bide the time, and a phone to call a taxi with. It isn't long before Vicki's vision begins to blur and she realises that she's in a lot of trouble. The couple chain her to a bed and unleash hell upon her. And so begins a relentless campaign of rape, bruised knuckles and depravation.
HOUNDS OF LOVE is a difficult watch to say the least, yet unlike other films of its type (such as The Berlin Syndrome or The Girl Next Door) it offers a psychological exploration of its antagonists, and presents the viewer with an examination of domestic violence, male dominance and psychological mind control. And while the content is certainly confronting, first time director Ben Young handles the material with great skill. Much of the horror is accompanied by a mesmerising soundtrack, including popular songs from the era, which adds beauty to the heinousness. This also provides a point of distinction from the likes of Snowtown, whereby the grim nature of the story is counterbalanced with an unexpected (uncomfortable) line up of music that stirs a disoriented uncertainty within. On one hand it's awful to consider that this is an “enjoyable” film yet on the other hand it delivers a challenging and provocative character study. There is no doubt, in my mind, that HOUNDS OF LOVE is absolutely enjoyable, but that “joy” should not be misunderstood. It is an emotional reaction to having seen a film that is about as close to perfection as is possible.
Much of the film's power is owed to the incredible performances of its three lead actors. Each have such a pivotal part in the story that it would be a disservice to call any one of them “support” players. Ashleigh Cummings gives a gut-wrenching performance as the tortured girl, and her commitment to the film is a testament to her talent. She is put in the most vulnerable and taxing position of the three, and her reactionary performance is quite incredible. Emma Booth's turn as the devoted wife should be an example to all aspiring thespians. It is a complex and harrowing performance, which borders on sympathetic and may ring true to many women watching... albeit to a heightened degree. She switches from monster to victim all too easily, and blurs the line between being a complaint facilitator (and participator) to an oppressed woman unable to escape the evil clutches of her husband.
And then there's Stephen Curry. Wow. This is a guy who has struggled to shake off his “Dale Karrigan” persona for two decades (despite his accomplished performances in films like The King and The Cup) and if HOUNDS OF LOVE doesn't break that mould, then nothing will. This is a career defining role that reminds us of the breakout performances from Russell Crowe in Romper Stomper, Eric Bana in Chopper and Daniel Henshall in Snowtown. Curry's portrayal of the serial killer John White (a character inspired by killer David Birnie) is akin to a possession. He emits charisma and terror in equal measure and walks in his killer's skin all too comfortably. It is a terrifying performance and when his creepy winks and depraved fetishes are paired on screen with 60s and 70s pop music, the result is transcending. I honestly don't think I will ever listen to the song Knights In While Satin the same again.... stunning stuff.
Ben Young's debut feature film is about as impressive as they come, and given his immaculate style, brilliant use of slow motion, and meticulous production design there is no doubt that he's set to become a filmmaker of his generation (we can hope). Hollywood have already poached him and his next film will see him reunited with Emma Booth, as well as an ensemble of players such as Lizzy Caplan, Michael Pena, Mike Colter and Lex Shrapnel amongst others. We can only hope that he is afforded the freedom to be as audacious and ingenious as he was with HOUNDS OF LOVE.
HOUNDS OF LOVE IS NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY & DVD FROM SHOCK.