Australian horror

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Rising Above: The Women in Hounds of Love *Spoilers Below!*

Published May 12, 2017 by rmpixie

Hounds of Love (2016, 1 hr, 48 mins.)

In Hounds of Love, Ben Young’s first feature-length film, a murderous couple in the city of Perth, Australia, stalks teenage girls to fulfil their sexual fantasies. The acts are orchestrated by John (Stephen Curry), a sexual predator who is cold, mean and conniving. His character is riveting because Young gives you just enough to wonder about what happened to this man to make him so diabolical, but the women surrounding him are equally compelling.

The film is set in 1987, when women were still coming off the gains from first wave feminism only to be kicked back by conservatism in the Reagan era. Traditional values were revisited and shunned by women who wanted to blaze trails and be the independent people their sisters before them fought for. I’m not sure if Young took any of this into account as he wrote the film, but with this era as a backdrop, there’s an interesting theme of traditional versus the modern woman running through the story.

Keeping second-wave feminism in mind, there are two distinct representations of women in the film. We have Vicki’s mother Maggie (Susie Porter) who is gaining her independence after leaving her husband, and Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) herself, a young adult pushing the boundaries and also looking for her place in the world without any parental interference. These two characters represent the burgeoning modern woman. Evelyn (Emma Booth), John’s wife and murderous cohort, is the more traditional figure. She does the cooking, cleaning and looks after her man and his conquests, doing her wifely duties in an extreme way.

Cummings as Vicki just before she is abducted.

Maggie is spreading her wings. Newly divorced, she is starting her new life and hopes to maintain her relationship with her daughter. Divorce in the 80’s was no longer taboo, in fact, it was becoming more common at that time due to changes with laws in North America and Australia. As a child of divorce, Vicki is processing her broken family home and experiencing her rebellious teen years. She deals with it in a typical way by defying her mother, seen as the person who destroyed their family because she’s left both Vicki and her father. Vicki attempts to be her own person despite the upheaval, and even has some power over her well-meaning boyfriend as he writes her school assignments for her. Both women are making efforts to create their own identity. Evelyn, on the other hand, finds comfort in her relationship. She is John’s caretaker and literal partner in crime; the nursemaid to their victims and his dutiful wife. There is no defiance here, only the urge to serve and be wanted. The actions of all three have consequences of varying degrees, but Evelyn’s is the most extreme case by living under the façade of a traditional role while she aids and abets the criminal activities of John.

Each woman will affect one another’s lives in the most unsettling of ways. When Vicky rebels against her mother and sneaks out to go to a party, she is lured into captivity by Evelyn and John. She is tough, however, and thinks on her feet, not succumbing completely to the fear of her abduction. As Evelyn cares for her captive, she forces information out of Vicki, and becomes jealous of her when she realized John’s interest in their captive. Evelyn wants to be as defiant and desirable as the teen, and when she fails to stand up to John, wants to break Vicki’s spirit to prove John loves her more.

We find out that Evelyn comes from a history of abuse that John rescued her from, and it’s the only thing she knows. She is angry, isolated and desperate, and needs something to care about since her children from a previous relationship were taken from her, so John gives her a dog. Her dog is a replacement for the lost children and her only tie to maternal feelings. Director Young said he used the dog to create sympathy for Evelyn, and it does indeed do that as it finds a violent end. But what we must remember is that she is part and parcel with John’s evil machinations. Even though she fears him and fears losing him, she knows right from wrong and still decides to participate. It’s this sobering fact that she played a part in the deaths of their victims, and that her washing the bloodied sheets and cleaning up the crime scene is just as heinous as the act itself. She is the woman that will do anything for love.

John (Curry) and Evelyn (Booth) have a moment together before the brutality.

Evelyn and Maggie are complete opposites. Evelyn represents the perversion of domestic subservience. She does as John wants, takes care of the home, and yearns to be a mother where Maggie refuses this role. Maggie moves into her own house and wants to start fresh, but the resentment felt by her husband when their daughter goes missing is a fresh wound that he picks at, blaming her for their child’s disappearance and shaming her for her independence. Maggie shows inner strength in this situation as she refuses his patronizing help, determined to find her daughter; in fact, Maggie ignores the patronizing police officers as well and carries on with the search led by her instincts.

Where Maggie stands up to her husband, John taunts Evelyn about losing her children and she takes it. Her traditional mindset in this setting is a distortion of the abuses women fight against. Top it off with John’s monstrous and manipulative patriarchal power, and you have an extreme microcosm of what traditional norms do to women who reject them. Maggie’s punishment for leaving the nuclear home is her daughter’s rape and torture.  At one point Evelyn tells Vicki she should have listened to her mother and stayed home after Vicki tells her the truth about her dog’s role and that John is just using her. Evelyn also judges Maggie even though she doesn’t know her, sneering at the broken marriage; mocking Maggie’s independence perhaps because Evelyn too has tried to leave but failed on her own. She doesn’t want to focus on the wrongs she has done to the young women they have captured, instead emboldened by falling back into John’s favour, she taunts and blames Vicki for the crimes committed against her.  It’s as if Evelyn and John feel justified in their actions because these independent women didn’t toe the line and stick with traditional roles.

Evelyn and John lord over the girls like a twisted traditional family. They punish those coming up in the new world, dominating girls and putting them in their place. They don’t put them in a shed or a dark, dank basement, instead their victims are placed in a very regular bedroom, held down with chains. It shows their arrogance and how close evil lies in seemingly safe environments. We never get to know John’s backstory or internal process, but it seems that from the relationship he has with other men, namely his drug dealer, he is the low man on the totem pole and his displeasure manifests in obsessive behaviour and manipulating, dominating, or killing women.

*************************Spoiler Alert*******************************************************

There is only so much unrealistic traditional values can affect its environment and only so far it can go with the fantasy that everyone will accept their roles. The same goes for John and Evelyn. The murderous couple’s vision of marital bliss and conservative appearance is skewed by their fervour for sex, blood and torture and they aren’t as perfect as they see themselves. Even though John calls Evelyn his “queen” and he seems to love her in a way, neighbours complaining about their toxic relationship reveals that imperfection. Eventually there has to be a breaking point and Evelyn will reach it because of her insecurities surrounding her desirability. With this crack in the façade, it’s only a matter of time before things start to crumble.

Maggie finds the neighbourhood where Vicki is being held and frantically shouts her name in the street. In this moment, Evelyn relates to Maggie’s loss as a mother and must make a decision. Egged on by Vicki’s goading, she chooses to kill John because he has denied her of her children as well. In this moment, she finally stands up to him, and becomes independent like Maggie and Vicki. Her fate is sealed but she is now free of a domineering male figure; freeing herself, and the other women around her from the torture. She is by no means a heroine, but at the same time becomes a liberator of sorts for Vicki and herself.   Her last act is cold comfort for redemption, but at least closes the circle of evil she has perpetuated.

There is so much to say about male and female relationships, women’s power and accountability in such a brutal way in this film. I have only scratched the surface, but in a nutshell, Hounds of Love is not only a terrifying psychological thriller, but an in depth look at how women who step out of prescribed roles overcome criticism, sexism and brutality with inner strength.

*Read my review of the film on Cinema Axis here.

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A “Throwback” to Bigfoot Down Under

Published June 24, 2015 by rmpixie

throwback

Throwback (2013, 93 mins.)

Independent filmmakers put their passion, savings, blood, sweat and tears into a film; sometimes having to stop production due to lack of finances, actor schedules or good old Mother Nature.  The last two factors are what Australia’s Travis Bain endured to make his creature feature Throwback.  Named for the throwback horror films from the 40’s and 50’s and also the creature’s evolutionary standing, this film took 2 years to make due to a persistent rainy season and working around the talent’s day jobs.  The end result is an homage to old school monsters and Bain’s childhood horror movie favourites.

Kent (Anthony Ring) and Jack (Shawn Brack) are treasure hunters dreaming of hitting it big in an unexplored tropical forest as they search for the legendary bounty of outlaw Thunderclap Newman.  This expedition has its obstacles with betrayal, a diligent forest ranger named Rhiannon (Melanie Serafin), and a rogue ex-cop McNabb (Vernon Wells) who searches for a killer.  Oh yes, and the legendary Yowie (Warren Clements), Australia’s Bigfoot.  These characters collide as they all try to survive each other and escape the wrath of this mythical creature.

For the budget, the film was beautifully shot.  Interesting camera angles and Yowie point-of-view showcased the beautiful North Queensland jungle/forest setting.  Even though you know it’s a man in a suit, there was creative shooting of the creature himself, with blurry focus reminiscent of classic B-movie Bigfoot footage.

The character set-up in the first half slows the pace a bit but the second half kicks it up with man vs. man vs. Yowie action.  I actually got a bit invested with the characters, because I started to really dislike them and was hoping for the Yowie to come out on top.  There were some moments that will make you chuckle, especially with Mad Max 2‘s Wells as the gnarly but kooky, obsessed ex-cop and Ring’s portrayal of the weasely Kent, but I would have liked some more tongue-in-cheek dialogue and a definitive tone since it morphed between a straight crime caper and horror comedy.

All in all, Bain created a fun low-budget B-movie that shows his love for the horror genre and burgeoning skill as a director.  If you haven’t seen it yet, never fear because this award-winning festival favorite is due for a DVD release in North America on July 21st.

check out the Throwback trailer:

http://www.travisbain.com.au/throwback.htm

http://www.facebook.com/throwbackmovie

His next project, Starspawn, described as “a sci-fi/horror thriller inspired by the films of John Carpenter and the works of cult horror author H.P. Lovecraft” has a Kickstarter campaign well under way.  Starring Vernon Wells once again, the plot revolves around a T.V. journalist who discovers evidence of an alien invasion while interviewing some outback survivalists.  If you would like to contribute, check out this link:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/starspawn/starspawn-an-hp-lovecraft-inspired-sci-fi-horror-f

http://www.facebook.com/starspawnmovie

Best of luck to Bain and his next feature!

Wyrmwood TADFF 2014

Published November 9, 2014 by rmpixie

wyrmwood

Wyrmwood (2014, 92 mins)

Australian films seemed to be a hit at this year’s TADFF with films like Housebound and the much-anticipated The Babadook, so when I heard about Wyrmwood, I was all in.  Described as Mad Max with zombies, I really couldn’t pass this one up, and I’m glad I didn’t.  It is definitely a different take on the post-apocalyptic zombie film, and one I think action movie fans will enjoy.

Similar to the aftermath of a falling star from the Book of Revelations, a weird stellar event creates zombies that run amok in the surrounding Australian countryside and cities.  Family man Barry (Jay Gallagher) has to scramble to save his wife and daughter, and after an urgent call, sets out on a quest to find his sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey). He meets up with other survivors, including the kooky Benny (Leon Burchill), in very tense circumstances, and they band together to battle zombies that emit strange green fumes and become more active at night.  They realize these zombies can be of great use, and their larger purpose is also being discovered by a dancing mad scientist played by Berryn Schwerdt, who has captured Brooke and uses her as a guinea pig.  Little does he know that Brooke will exceed his expectations.  Both siblings have their trials to deal with before they can ever think of reuniting, and things stay consistently hairy until the bitter end.

The After Dark team let the audience know that this film took a long time-several years actually-to finish, and the end result is a pretty crazy ride.  Mixed in with some brutal action and zombie kills, there are also some decent laughs to be had along the way, the most memorable punctuated by the literal Benny.  His goofy observations are backed with a lot of heart and heroics that make him unforgettable, and it is always nice to see some much-needed diversity in horror films.  And the kick-ass Brooke is one of the most unique final girls ever.  Talk about girl power, and she sports possibly the best smokey eye for zombie killing I have ever, ever seen!

brooke

I’m still a makeup artist at heart so here is Bianca Bradey as Brooke and her kick-ass smokey eye.

I only had one issue with the film.  I would have loved a back story about the mad scientist, billed as “The Doctor”.  He was one of the more compelling characters and I can’t resist a great bad guy.  I wondered if his home base lab came equipped with a disco ball or whether he was wearing a ruffled disco shirt under his haz-mat suit.  I call for a prequel starring The Doctor and the gorgeous Captain played by Luke McKenzie, who battles Barry in the film’s final act.

For the die-hard, jaded zombie movie fan, I think Wyrmwood will be a pleasant surprise.  It breaks convention with tons of action and an inventive storyline.  Definitely worth a watch!

*If you have a keen interest in Australian film, check out Curnblog.  There is a 5 part series listing the top 100 Australian films of all time, and it is excellent!

 

The Babadook TADFF 2014

Published October 29, 2014 by rmpixie

babadook

The Babadook (2014, 1hr 33 mins)

I had read about The Babadook several months ago.  Drawn in by the strange name, I had to see what this indie Aussie horror, touted as one of the best horror films out this year, was about.  I was immediately intrigued by the trailer, and was ecstatic when I found out it was coming to the Toronto After Dark Film Festival as the closing gala film.  This fairytale nightmare was worthy of all the buzz and anticipation as it kept your gut in knots and will make you avoid your bookshelf for a while.

On the day of her son Samuel’s (Noah Wiseman) birth, Amelia (Essie Davis) loses her husband in a car crash.  Samuel, who is now 6, is a handful; his imagination runs wild with monsters he must battle, and he invents treacherous gizmos that creates problems at school.  His mother is a broken woman trying to keep her head above a sea of unrealized emotion, and gets no support from her sister.  One evening for a bedtime story, Samuel picks a book called The Babadook.  It has mysteriously appeared on his shelf, and it is a menacing tale that becomes too close for comfort, immediately scaring the living daylights out of Samuel and his mother.  What ensues is the unleashing of a supernatural force that stakes its claim on their home and their lives.

What draws you in to The Babadook is not the dollhouse-like sets or the moody lighting and midnight blue palette, but the performances.  Davis, with her fresh face and big eyes, played the hell out of her character who goes from distraught to a demonic transformation that will give you chills.  To be in abject terror for such a sustained amount of time deserves an award of some sort!  Wiseman sold the excitable, anxiety-laden Samuel who just wants happiness in his life really well, drawing out concern just as you were ready to write him off.

Writer and director Jennifer Kent uses the age-old fairy tale rule of a moral or warning in its most literal sense, in this case burying your fears and emotions that will eventually come back and bite, or stab you.  She has also made a visually engaging film.  From the simple household sets that conveyed a sad isolation, to the vintage silent film footage that haunts Amelia’s dream and waking life, Kent makes the indie into high art.  And the fact that our antagonist, The Babadook, is not treated like your regular demon/spirit fare elevates the monster to what I hope will be iconic status.  Also note the brilliant sound design that at times you could feel in your seat and made your skin crawl.

When this film comes out in a wider release, and I think with all its success it will, go see it.  You will get a kick out of some old-fashioned scares, harkening back to the spooky stories you remember as a child, and the unusual ending will leave you wondering what will happen to Amelia and Samuel.  Ba Ba Dook-Dook-Dook!

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