Observance (2016)

Observance is the latest addition to micro budget Australian films. Cunningly stylish, this hybrid horror/psychological thriller offers genuinely unsettling scenes filled with moody atmospheric grunge. A film full of visual clues, secretive backstory and answers to questions left for the audience to decipher themselves. Observance will hauntingly fester away in your mind.

From a derelict apartment across the street, Parker (Lindsay Farris) reluctantly returns to work as a private investigator, after the death of his young son, to fund for excessive medical bills. Embarking on an unusual assignment to observe a woman (Stephanie King) and report back daily to the mysterious client. Things aren’t as they seem, as Parker begins to spiral into confusion, delusion and possibly madness.

Ambitiously made back in January 2013 on the director’s, Joseph Sim-Dennett, credit card for just $11,000 and filmed only in 11 days. Observance premiered last year at the reputable Fantasia Film Festival and garnered enough buzz to bring it back home to a limited release in Australia cinemas. The films enigmatic approach to storytelling reverently does not spoon feed the narrative to its audience, rather leaves the riddle of the film left to your own interpretation.

The stylish voyeurism is layered with terror and paranoia. Scenes are tinted in unhealthy shades of green, as if the film becomes sick alongside Parker’s deteriorating mind frame. The majority of the movie lacks any real dialogue and as the unsettling sound design takes hold, not only does it leave the characters in the dark, but the audience too with its insidious ambiance.

Although the film is Australian, the actors speak in American accents, which was disappointing to see Sims-Dennett hide the films heritage. Fortunately, I attended a Q & A session with the director, and typically this questions arose. Sims-Dennett stated it was a creative decision to accommodate the sub plot of Parker’s excess of large medical bills for his son (Australia has Medicare therefore would have rendered the necessity of the high paying job). Really, a non issue though, that shouldn’t break the prominence of the film.

Observance is a unique and impressive achievement. Regular cinema goers may find the mystery frustratingly unresolved, as the final act offers an abrupt loop of suspension. Visually pleasing, thought provoking and undoubtedly oblique, Observance is no doubt a film the requires a re-watch as the ending festers away under your skin.

8.0 / 10

“Stop watching”

The Invitation (2016)

The Invitation is a horror film for grown ups. Mixing horror, mystery and drama, this highly effective confined chiller walks between the line of suspicion and paranoia in a haze of rich atmospheric tension.

Set during a mysterious reunion among old friends, Will (Logan Marshall-Green) believes that there is something not quite right occurring, and that his ex-wife and her new husband have sinister intentions for their guests.

Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation is a profound film about grief and recovery, wrapped as a psychological thriller. The majority of the film overwhelmingly plays on your imagination, we are constantly second guessing ourselves as to what is actually happening. The slow simmering tension builds on social awkwardness and suffocating anxiety, the film always feels like it is one step away from undeniable horror.

Marshall-Green does a terrific job of making us feel his loss as well as anger, as we are slowly dripped his tragic backstory – that Will and now ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) were once a loving couple that split after the death of their young son. The dramatic emphasis of The Invitation is less on what happened in the past, and more on what’s transpiring in the present. Will is unable to understand the evenings purpose and struggles with accepting Eden’s newfound happiness. Is there some menacing motivation behind the gathering? Or is Will’s still present grief and unacceptance twisting his reality into doubt and distrust?

The Invitation is a serious slow burner, for some viewers in may be too slow and without a worthy payoff. With deep admiration The Invitation is a refreshing step into the darker genre, with a final act that doesn’t descend too heavily into madness and is grounded with realistic action. Lastly, leaving you with a closing scene that is as clever as it is unnerving.

8.5 / 10

“Something doesn’t feel safe here”  

Hush (2016)

Hush goes down a familiar path but with added flair and talent, this nifty home invasion thriller offers ingenious suspense and nail biting tension. Strikingly frightening, Hush is the reason the horror genre can be so respected.

Maddie (Kate Siegel) is a deaf mute writer working on her next novel when one evening she is stalked by a psychotic killer (John Gallagher Jr) in her secluded home.

Up and coming genre filmmaker, Mike Flanagan, follows up his excellent film Oculus, with an inspiring cat and mouse thriller. Bolstered with intelligent characters and a creative use of sound design, Flanagan goes against the genre cliché of employing bursts of loud noises to assault an audience’s senses and instead drops out audio completely. The film has little to no dialogue and silence is used as a story telling device, truly submerging the audience into Maddie’s point of view.

The back and forth between Maddie and The Man is gripping. Siegel does a terrific job of playing a character with a perceived handicap, not only do we see her vulnerabilities but we’re also showcased her unexpected advantages. We buy into Maddie’s reactions and her thought process as she tries to fight for survival. Gallagher Jr is also very good here, as the mysterious motivated antagonist it is refreshing to see him playing against his type, the viciousness of his character almost has a charismatic pull, as he appears to enjoy mind games with the same pleasure he derives from physical violence.

Flanagan keeps the pace tight at 82 minutes. He doesn’t hold back on gore, but he also does not rely on it. There is some early obvious foreshadowing in the opening scenes and at times one almost wishes Flanagan played more with the sound technique of dropping out the audio. But, now I am just nit-picking.

Hush is a terrific film, from the opening eerie introduction between the two characters, to the creative final act. This edge of your seat thriller is easily a contender for best genre flick for the year.

9.5 / 10

“I bet if I hit the right spot I could make you scream”

 

The Boy (2016)

The Boy, joins the haunted toy chest with the likes of Chucky and Annabelle, in this moody goofy creeper. This twisty horror is not that terrible, the outrageous premise serves as a guilty pleasure and a bit of fun for a Friday night, despite its lack of originality and creativeness.  

Greta (Lauren Cohan), a young American woman, escaping a troubled romantic past takes a job as a nanny for the British Heelshire family. To Greta’s surprise her new English family’s child is actually a life-sized china doll. Before the Heelshire’s leave for holiday, Greta is given a list of rules to follow, with a warning that Brahms is not your normal child.

William Brent Bell, delivers heavily on the creep front. The eerie atmospheric presence shrouds the overly designed gothic setting. It’s all a little on the cheap side of being taken as a serious horror and unfortunately The Boy relies heavily on its fake out jump scares.

My greatest hate is the tired use of the fake out dream sequence jump scare, and The Boy painfully goes down this route not one, but TWICE! It must be tempting for novice directors, but for us seasoned horror vets it ultimately cheapens the experience. The narrative feels cheated, as we now no longer can trust what we see. Furthermore, the unnecessary subplot of the violent ex-boyfriend (Ben Robson) felt rushed and melodramatic, at no point do you feel any real sense of intimidation from him – I am more threatening then him on a bad hair day.

With a fun final act reveal, its hard not to notice that the climatic confrontation has blatantly been lifted from maybe a not so well known New Zealand horror gem. The lack of originality is regrettable, but if you can look past the checklist of ‘how to do horror’, it’s a fun exploration into the creepy doll genre.

6.0 / 10

“Be good to him and he will be good to you”

Z for Zachariah (2015)

Z for Zachariah is a beautifully captured humanised post apocalyptic drama. At times promising, this slow burner feels too dramatically slight for its ambitions, and an ending that’s too abrupt.

Set in the aftermath of an unspecified decline, pockets of radiation have wiped out most of civilization, bar a young woman who finds herself suddenly in the presence of two men and a complicated love triangle.

Craig Zobel’s post apocalyptic tale focuses not on the event itself, but the human story of picking up the pieces in the aftermath. This Garden of Eden like story enforces the themes of religion vs science, it asks how people recalibrate their sense of morality.

Z for Zachariah is tastefully dull. The gorgeous atmospheric scenery is visually captivating and there are fine performances from the three sole characters. Margot Robbie is gentle and understated, but the complicated love triangle between herself and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s, Loomis, a man of science, and Chris Pine’s, Caleb, our figurative serpent, lacks any real end passion or heat.

Evidently, this two Adam’s and Eve tale is missing any real quintessential vivacity and instead is a psychodrama about really, really nice people. Leading to an ending that is left to your own interpretation, for me this was a deal breaker, as its vague conclusion leaves an unsatisfied sour taste and too many burning questions.

Unfortunately, Z for Zachariah’s shortcomings outweighs it strengths. While it is exceptionally photographed, the ambiguity is thin on depth and entertainment value.

5.0 / 10

“This valley survived like you and I did because we have faith” 

Paranormal Activity: Ghost Dimension (2015)

Paranormal Activity: Ghost Dimension undoes much of the low key believability that was essential to the franchise with this heavily computerised fizzer. Deemed to be the last entry into the franchise, Ghost Dimension goes bigger but not better.

An unsuspecting family move into a new house and begin experiencing strange occurrences after they discover an evil entity is after the daughter.

Director, Gregory Plotkin ties in some lingering questions about the franchises overarching mythology, however six films in and the chills and thrills are gone. What began as a refreshing and haunting experience, it was disappointing to see all the follow up filmmakers stray so far from the original foundation – the chilling use of the unseen to terrorize viewers. A style that made the series so universally admired in the first place.
Lacking originality, Ghost Dimension is the most disappointing of the bunch. Notable cast members from previous film do not make an appearance and with so much time invested in the long running sense, my only question is “where is Katie?” Her absence denies us to feel any closure and instead the wrap up for the long running series feels jaded.

Ghost Dimension missing the mark on capitalizing on the fear of the unknown, as the audience is now finally gifted with a visual cameo appearance of the illusive, Toby. The series villainous being was much more frightening when he remained transparent, he now is a heavy computerized floating blob of dark mass.

Being a fan of the series in general it was disappointing to see the series with such a bang, go out with a fizzle. Ideally, I wish the filmmakers went back to basics and spend more time getting back to classic found footage, back to what ignited the popular franchise.

5.0 / 10

“Fuck you, Ryan! I wanted to stay at mum’s!”

They’re Watching (2016)

They’re Watching is a pleasantly cheesy found footage horror comedy. Not to be taken too seriously, the winking undercurrent pulls off an enjoyable descend into complete and utter chaos.

An American home improvement TV crew team visit a remote Eastern European village to film a follow up segment of a drastic home makeover. But when the crew arrives they discover the superstitious locals are not so welcoming.

Directors/Co-Writers Jay Lender and Micah Wright deliver a fun little film here. The pacing is entertaining but in the genre of horror comedy, it’s the comedy that comes out strong. There is a decent sense of humour that flairs throughout the story and the banter between the characters is genuinely funny. It seems every found footage film has to have the sarcastic camera operator, and here it is Kris Lemche. A treasure to the horror genre (Ginger Snaps, Final Destination 3) Lemche provides the constant cynical narration of the spooky antiquity of Moldova. You can’t help but snicker along at the arrogance of the characters.

There are however a few questionable scenes that add no significance in moving the story forward. Greg’s (David Alpay) melodramatic backstory hinders the films carefree charm, and instead creates flaccid minutes of overacted importance. Souring the movement towards the grand final act.

The final 10 minutes, both writers must have decided “fuck it” and let shit hit the fan!  The change of tone is pleasurably jaw dropping. The CGI is sub amateur and somewhat cheesy, but there are times in life when too much cheese can be a good thing (like on a pizza)!

The final act either makes it or breaks it for you in this energetic silly mayhem of madness! Seasoned horror vets may feel their patience is tested for the heavy payoff, but nonetheless it is an entertaining spell.

6.5 / 10

“Is it like national axe day? What the fuck is this?”

Nina Forever (2016)

Nina Forever is a bizarre gore soaked high concept horror. Ghastly yet gorgeous, this morbid tale balances the uncomfortable topic of grief with deadpan dark humour and sultry edginess.

After Rob’s girlfriend Nina dies in a car crash, Rob unsuccessfully attempts suicide. As he begins to recover from his grief he falls in love with co-worker, Holly. Their relationship is tested however when Nina’s bloody self rises from the sheets, sarcastically interrupting them whenever they have sex.

Brothers, Ben and Chris Blaine deliver a unique portrayal of letting go in their directorial feature debut. This twisted tale blurs the genre lines with its substantial amount of heartbreak underneath the gore. The subject matter deftly explores serious and relatable issues like grief and the possible impossibility of moving on, which stands far more uncomfortable then any macabre scenes.

The twisted love triangle brings an emotionally affecting level to the story. The performances from all seem authentically sensitive. The tragedy of the situation is disturbing but tender. Fiona O’Shaughnessy’s (Nina) performance is both repulsive, in the way she swings her lifeless corpse around, and hypnotic in the nous of her poetic sense of dialogue.

Oozing sick yet sexy eroticism with a dark comedic edge, this inventive film is a superb little gem in the horror genre.

9.0 / 10

“I’d love it if my boyfriend tried to kill himself cause I’d died”

The Raid: Redemption (2012)

The Raid: Redemption is a no frills all thrills inventive action flick. Breathlessly visceral with creative cinematography and astounding marital arts choreography. There are no dull moments in this pulse pounding cult classic.  

Set in the slums of Jakarta, Indonesia, a SWAT team becomes trapped during an apartment building raid. Run by a ruthless drug kingpin, its not long before the halls are littered with with his army of killers and thugs.

Gareth Evan’s noisy blood lusting crowd pleaser is a stylistic throwback to the grindhouse genre. It is expertly paced with ferocious tenacity. Evan’s never runs out of inventive ways to kill somebody.

A little late to the party with this one… let’s not lie, we all have that list of movies that we know we should have seen, but haven’t yet. Action is a tricky genre to hold my interest, most times I find it becomes repetitive and uninteresting. Fortunately, The Raid does not fall into that trap. The Raid is a true triumph of marital arts choreography, the camera work dances around the fight sequences in long wide combative takes. The scores pulsing synth does well to play embellish the playful use of set design allows the camera to impressively follow the action everywhere it goes – dropping through floors, circling around doorways and walls.

The plot is simple enough, get in, get out. It doesn’t weigh down what the film is really about. A showcase of the impressive martial art of pencak silat. My only question for the film would be in the title itself. The Raid: Redemption? Who or what is redeemed?

The Raid: Redemption is brutal and bloody. So relentless in its action, it’s a never ending visual spectacle.

8.0 / 10

“Pulling the trigger is like ordering takeout”