Movie Review – The BBQ

An underdog sports movie devoid of tension, The BBQ gets by on charms alone.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Michael Philp

The BBQ will inevitably be compared to The Castle – as all Australian comedies must be – but that contrast seems inappropriate for a few reasons. Chief among them is the fact that where The Castle put a family’s home on the line, The BBQ only endangers a few reputations – and it doesn’t even seem to care about them very much. Ironically, the biggest problem with The BBQ is that the stakes aren’t high enough.

The main reputation on the line is Darren “Dazza” Cook’s (Shane Jacobson). A barbecue addict, Dazza loves telling people he’s related to Captain Cook – the supposed creator of the barbecue – and hosting community get-togethers, much to his wife’s chagrin. After Dazza gains national attention for giving the community food poisoning, Dazza’s work enters him into a cooking competition – a bizarre decision that the film barely bothers to justify. Weirder still, the company simultaneously recognises that Dazza doesn’t actually have the skills to win the competition, so they send him off to be trained by The Butcher (Magda Szubanski), a Scottish woman with a grudge against the front-runner, Andre Mont Blanc (Manu Feildel).

There’s a Karate Kid formula at work here, delivered with delightful colour. Szubanski is particularly memorable, bringing a gruffness to her Miyagi that contrasts brilliantly with Jacobson’s overwhelmed Daniel. The mid-point of their training schedule – where an actual Japanese master (Kuni Hashimoto) teaches Dazza to identify wagyu beef – is easily the high point of the film. At its best, The BBQ is proof that clichés don’t matter if you execute them with skill – tell a story well, and you’ll have your audience enthralled regardless of how many tropes you’re using.

It’s a damn shame then that outside of that formula, The BBQ doesn’t tell its story well, despite having an astonishing five credited writers. Even with all of those people editing the script, it somehow fails to produce any real stakes. The few it has are paper thin and poorly thought out. Dazza’s main incentive to win is two-fold: he wants to prove to his wife that he’s good at what he does, and he wants to humiliate his rival, Mont Blanc. Except Dazza’s wife doesn’t care how good he is, she’s angry that the barbecue takes time away from the family. And Mont Blanc is a foreigner who is doing the competition for publicity, which he gets either way.

What might’ve worked better is if Dazza’s style was built around honest, community barbecuing, something the marketing suggests, but not the film itself. That simple change would contrast him to the pretentious foreigner and put the value of community on the line. Instead, Dazza’s training focuses on high-end cooking that clashes with his suburban setting. Dazza loves feeding people, but you can’t feed a community with wagyu beef, and that disconnect is something the film never addresses. That kind of thinking is the difference between a great film and an average film. For all its wonderful colour and humour, The BBQ is the latter, and that’s a damn shame.

The BBQ is available in Australian cinemas from February 22 

Image courtesy of Label Distribution

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Movie Review – Sweet Country

Imagine the most typical Australian film ever and you’ll end up with something that resembles Sweet Country.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic 

The Australian film industry has always been obsessed with travelling back to colonial times to look at the atrocities and prejudice against Indigenous people. Following his 2009 award-winning film Samson and Delilah, Warwick Thornton continues to add to the likes of Rabbit-Proof Fence and Ten Canoes with his latest film Sweet Country.

Set in the Northern Territory in the 1920s, Sweet Country follows Sam (Hamilton Morris), a middle-aged Aboriginal farmer who kills a local white man in self-defence. Knowing his side of the story will be quickly dismissed by the law, Sam decides to go on the run with his wife, and the subsequent manhunt for Sam soon turns into a hunt for the true meaning of justice.

As Australians, we are proud to live in a country where freedom and peace are the standard way of life, but these values have been and continue to be denied to some. While not as powerful or relatable as Thornton’s modern retelling of the biblical Samson and Delilah, Sweet Country does serve as a reminder that we must never forget our roots, no matter how tough it may be to stomach.

In terms of storytelling, however, Sweet Country is a relatively stock standard affair. It’s a well-made piece of filmmaking, but it fails to truly captivate, mostly because we’ve seen better films handle the same subject matter in the past.

Sweet Country is still a worthy addition to Australian cinema, mostly thanks to its stunning cinematography. As he did with Samson and Delilah, Thornton once again takes on the duties of director and cinematographer, but this time around he has truly upped the ante. From vivid, orange sunsets to wide, sweeping shots of dense bushland and the red outback, the Australian landscape is on full display here.

Production designer Tony Cronin and costume designer Heather Wallace also deserve commendation for their faithful representation of the era, not only in what it looked like, but also in what it felt like. Those were tough times, and the sweat on people’s brows, and the dirt on their clothes works well to recreate the hardship experienced by people back then.

Sweet Country isn’t the most exciting film, but it is an important reminder for the pain and hard truths we will always face as Australians.

Sweet Country is available in Australian cinemas from January 25 

Image courtesy of Transmission Films

Who Should’ve Won At The AACTAs

Josip Knezevic 

The AACTAs, Australia’s version of the Oscars, celebrate the finest achievements in Australian cinema. 2017 brought us a strong pool of nominees that represent a bright future for Australian film, and while these films won’t put Australia on the international film map as say Lord of the Rings did for New Zealand, they’re still remarkable achievements for Australian filmmaking.

Yes, you may be thinking the AACTAs took place in December last year, but seeing as it’s Australia Day long weekend, it seems apt to look back at who won versus who should have won and honour the greatest Australian films of 2017.

Best Film
Winner: Lion
Who Should Have Won: Ali’s Wedding

From the outset, it was obvious that Lion was going to take this top spot, as it did in so many categories. It boasts a much larger production budget than its fellow nominees and also features some of the world’s biggest stars in Nicole Kidman, Dev Patel and Rooney Mara. I can’t complain that it won, it’s a beautiful and gut-wrenching story, but at the same time, Ali’s Wedding represents a fresh breath of air for Australian storytelling and the depiction of our culture on screen. Yes, it may just be a simple love story on the surface, but it has so many little charms and quirks that make it genuinely funny and interesting to watch. It would have been a very deserving winner.

Best Direction
Winner: Lion (Garth Davis)
Who Should Have Won: Hounds of Love (Ben Young)

Although I enjoyed the emotional journey Garth Davis took us upon in Lion, I can’t help but feel that Ben Young’s skills should have been recognised here, and not just because his film Hounds of Love was filmed in WA. Most of his film takes place within the walls of a small home and focuses on the relationship between two emotionally twisted and disturbed serial killers. Young shows great restraint throughout the film, tending to let your imagination take over, rather than simply showing a lot of graphic violence. He creates a lot of tension and directs some skillful, emotional performances from his leads all on a very small budget. I’m looking forward to seeing him take on bigger projects in the future.

Best Lead Actor
Winner: Sunny Pawar (Lion)
Who Should Have Won: Sunny Pawar (Lion)

Cuteness will always reign supreme. 9-year-old Sunny Pawar took out the Best Lead actor category and I agree wholeheartedly with this choice. Let’s hope this child protégé continues his acting success as an adult.

Best Lead Actress
Winner: Emma Booth (Hounds of Love)
Who Should Have Won: Emma Booth (Hounds of Love)

Without Emma Booth’s powerhouse performance, Hounds of Love would not have been anywhere near as enjoyable. Booth brought an emotional delicacy to her serial killer role that encouraged sympathy towards her, despite her horrendous pursuits. Ever since her days on TV’s Underbelly she’s proven herself to be a fantastic actress, and I’m glad she’s getting recognition for her work on the big screen.

Best Supporting Actor
Winner: Dev Patel (Lion)
Who Should Have Won: Dev Patel (Lion)

Much like Emma Booth’s strong example in Hounds of Love, Dev Patel has such a powerful and resonating performance in Lion that without him, I doubt the film could have reached the same strong ending. Together, him and Sunny Pawar made a fine team on their emotional journey to find their way home. Patel has gone from strength to strength ever since his lead performance in Slumdog Millionaire

Best Supporting Actress
Winner: Nicole Kidman (Lion)
Who Should Have Won: Nicole Kidman (Lion)

The Lion train continues, and the fine performances on offer in this film should make everyone jump on board. Lion is a prime example of what happens when you put together a cast of A-list Hollywood actors and everything clicks. Nicole Kidman plays the mother who adopts a young Indian refugee, and her wisdom as an experienced actor brings an emotional connection to the film that would not have been anywhere near as strong without her.

 

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment 

Movie Review – Swinging Safari

Outrageously crude, Swinging Safari is an insane look at Australia in the 70’s.

⭐ ⭐
Michael Philp 

It says a lot that Swinging Safari feels the need to excuse itself. The opening narration by Richard Roxburgh recalls that the 70’s were a time without political correctness or helicopter parenting. If anything depicted offends you, deal with it because it’s a true story. In other words, Safari knows that it’ll be controversial, but tries to sidestep that criticism with “it was the 70’s”. If you accept that excuse, you’ll have a grand old time, but if you think that isn’t good enough to justify some truly horrific decisions, steer well clear.

Safari is ostensibly about 14-year-old Jeff Marsh (Atticus Robb) coming of age in mid-70’s Australia. Jeff is a budding filmmaker and loves using his super eight camera to capture his mates doing death-defying stunts. He’s also in love with Melly (Darcey Wilson), a young girl suffering from anxiety and depression. Together, Melly and Jeff form Safari’s emotional core as they deal with absentee parents and the manic energy of their suburban cul-de-sac. Their parents, meanwhile, function as the film’s comedic core, letting loose at key parties and outrageously feuding between themselves – prawns in hubcaps, tampering with tan creams, that kind of thing.

To the film’s credit, Safari can be quite funny. There’s no denying that when writer/director Stephan Elliott aims for satirical nostalgia, he hits the nail on the head. His beach scenes in particular – all KFC, cask wine, and sunburn – are excellent vehicles for this. The fact that he’s aiming to be honest about the era helps here because it gives everything a gonzo vibe – fast, authentic, and wild.

Unfortunately, the well frequently gets poisoned by Elliott’s attempts to depict the deeper issues of his generation. It isn’t enough to joke about K-tel products, Safari also wants you to laugh at the grimier aspects of the 70’s, like alcoholism and depression. In portraying these problems, Elliott creates tonal issues that he doesn’t have the skill to navigate.

Melly is the most egregious example of this. She has mental health issues – she’s never hungry and is often separate from the other children because she’s openly depressed. The film treats this issue with all the grace of a beached whale because that’s how the era treated it. People punish and bully Melly for her problems, but Elliott doesn’t do anything to denounce that because “it was the 70’s, deal with it.” It’s horrible to watch, even more so when it’s played against the aforementioned nostalgic tone.

Ultimately, Safari’s biggest problems boil down to Elliott ignoring basic screenwriting rules to get a more accurate depiction of the era (Safari doesn’t have a real plot because the 70’s were a plotless generation). That’s not entirely a bad thing, since it allows for a frenetic pace that some will enjoy, but it also makes the film harder to follow, and a lot of the emotional beats don’t get the care they deserve. If a frenzied and crudely funny take on 70’s Australia sounds like a good night out to you, you’ll love what Swinging Safari offers. Just remember that you’ll have to stomach the worst tendencies of the era as well.

Swinging Safari is available in Australian cinemas from January 18 

Image courtesy of Becker Film Group 

7th AACTA Awards: A One Horse Race

Corey Hogan 

Last Wednesday night, the 7th annual ceremony of the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards (and 58th incarnation of what was once the Australian Film Institute Awards) took a hold of Channel 7. This year the AACTAs staked their claim as Australia’s Oscars equivalent not only by celebrating excellent films and talent in front of and behind the cameras, but also by getting caught up in a bit of controversy.

The shadow of the enormous, ongoing sexual harassment scandal in Hollywood loomed large over the evening – a likely precursor to the effect it will have on next year’s big awards ceremonies in Los Angeles. Only a week or so prior to the awards, AACTA founder Geoffrey Rush stepped down as president amidst abuse allegations, though whether he did so willingly or was forced remains to be seen given his new defamation suit against The Daily Telegraph. Mention of the actor was mostly avoided at the awards, save for Rachel Griffiths’ defence that “Geoffrey Rush is not Harvey Weinstein”.

Elsewhere, Russell Crowe took the opportunity he had on stage to recount a poorly timed anecdote of accidentally sodomising his co-star and nominee Jacqueline McKenzie during the filming of a sex scene on the set of Romper Stomper. The graphic story, in which Crowe revealed to a room full of professionals that his “bits and pieces were in a little canvas sack with a drawstring”, wound up axed from Channel 7’s broadcast; given that it was more squirm than laugh-inducing – this was probably for the best. Sophie Monk and Osamah Sami were not so lucky; their painfully awkward comedic banter in an attempt to ridicule the industry for its lack of diversity was met with crickets – ironically, this forced them to cut forward to presenting the Best Performance in a Comedy award.

Otherwise, it was business as usual. Continuing the AACTA’s trope of favouring the film with the greatest international success, Lion predictably took home the lion’s share of the awards, winning in all twelve categories (Best Film, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Lead Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Original Music Score, Best Sound, Best Production Design and Best Costume Design) it was nominated for. At least this felt deserved, and gave us an adorable moment as nine-year-old Sunny Pawar fulfilled his fellow nominee Stephen Curry’s prediction to become the youngest person ever to win Best Lead Actor.

Outside of the reigning champion, Andrew Knight and Osamah Sami were given a little love, winning Best Original Screenplay for Ali’s Wedding, and Emma Booth received Best Lead Actress for her sinister role in Hounds of Love, beating out Teresa Palmer in the similarly-themed Berlin Syndrome. It’s always a little monotonous when one film is constantly seeing the light of the podium, but the moments in between, both sour and sweet, at least kept this year’s AACTAs interesting.

Here’s a full list of the nominees and winners of every category in the AACTA’s feature film division.

Best Film
Lion
Ali’s Wedding
Berlin Syndrome
Hounds of Love
Jasper Jones

Best Director
Garth Davis (Lion)
Jeffrey Walker (Ali’s Wedding)
Cate Shortland (Berlin Syndrome)
Ben Young (Hounds of Love)

Best Original Screenplay
Andrew Knight & Osamah Sami (Ali’s Wedding)
Priscilla Cameron (The Butterfly Tree)
Cris Jones (The Death and Life of Otto Bloom)
Ben Young (Hounds of Love)

Best Adapted Screenplay
Luke Davies (Lion)
Shaun Grant (Berlin Syndrome)
James Greville, Ursula Cleary & Anne Brooksbank (Don’t Tell)
Shaun Grant & Craig Silvey (Jasper Jones)

Best Lead Actor
Sunny Pawar (Lion)
Stephen Curry (Hounds of Love)
Ewen Leslie (The Butterfly Tree)
Osamah Sami (Ali’s Wedding)

Best Lead Actress
Emma Booth (Hounds of Love)
Teresa Palmer (Berlin Syndrome)
Helana Sawires (Ali’s Wedding)
Sara West (Don’t Tell)

Best Supporting Actor
Dev Patel (Lion)
Don Hany (Ali’s Wedding)
Jack Thompson (Don’t Tell)
Hugo Weaving (Jasper Jones)

Best Supporting Actress
Nicole Kidman (Lion)
Frances Duca (Ali’s Wedding)
Jacqueline McKenzie (Don’t Tell)
Susie Porter (Hounds of Love)

Best Cinematography
Greig Fraser (Lion)
Michael McDermott (Hounds of Love)
Stefan Duscio (Jungle)
Geoffrey Hall (Red Dog: True Blue)

Best Editing
Alexandre de Franceschi (Lion)
Nick Meyers (Australia Day)
Jack Hutchings (Berlin Syndrome)
Merlin Eden (Hounds of Love)

Best Original Music Score
Volker Bertelmann & Dustin O’Halloran (Lion)
Nigel Westlake (Ali’s Wedding)
Bryony Marks (Berlin Syndrome)
Caitlin Yeo (The Butterfly Tree)

Best Sound
Robert Mackenzie, Glenn Newnham, Nakul Kamte, Andrew Ramage, James Ashton & Mario Vaccaro (Lion)
Liam Egan, Trevor Hope, Robert Sullivan, Yulia Akerholt, James Andrews & Les Fiddess (Jasper Jones)
Serge Lacroix, Cate Cahill & Francis Byrne (The Killing Ground)
Wayne Pashley, Rick Lisle, Fabian Sanjurgo, Michael Smanick & Gregg Landaker (The Lego Batman Movie)

Best Production Design
Chris Kennedy (Lion)
Melinda Doring (Berlin Syndrome)
Ben Morieson (The Death and Life of Otto Bloom)
Herbert Pinter (Jasper Jones)

Best Costume Design
Cappi Ireland (Lion)
Maria Pattison (Berlin Syndrome)
Tess Schofield (Dance Academy: The Movie)
Margot Wilson (Jasper Jones)

Image courtesy of Mark Metcalfe, (c) 2017 Getty Images

Movie Review – Three Summers

Three Summers is determined to bring a sunny disposition to the thorniest of political topics.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Michael Philp

Let’s get this out of the way quick-smart: for some people, Three Summers will not be an easy film. It should be – it’s a comedy, after all – but it’s also an unreservedly left-wing perspective on Australia that will rub certain people up the wrong way. It wears its politics on its sleeve in almost every scene, and you’ll either laugh along with it or get frustrated when it (regularly) dismisses conservative opinions. In other words, it’s a Ben Elton film.

Written and directed by Elton, Three Summers is a film about Australia and its stories. Accordingly, it follows a variety of groups at the fictional Westival music festival. There’s the feisty Warrikins (Rebecca Breeds, John Waters); Roland the Theremin player (Robert Sheehan); the Morris dancers led by Michael Caton; Queenie the relentlessly sunny radio announcer (Magda Szubanski); and about half a dozen other plotlines, all converging on the same campgrounds over three years.

It’s impressive just how well Elton manages to juggle it all. Considering the number of ideas he’s throwing around, it would’ve been easy for the film to descend into a preachy soup. Instead, thanks to the extended timespan, there’s always a fresh joke around the corner. Revisiting these characters over multiple years affords us the chance to watch them grow and adjust naturally. A punk band dwindles, an AA meeting grows, and certain events challenge the community dynamic in surprising ways. Through it all, a warmly empathetic optimism brings the disparate groups together.

That optimism is what ultimately ties the film together. Elton himself has made it clear that he wanted to make a nice film – something lovely and warm – and that ethos shines through. Even when the film is confronting Australia’s thorniest conversations – the refugee crisis, Aboriginal marginalisation – it remains upbeat and acknowledges them as decipherable problems. They aren’t just rocks and hard places, they are people, and people deserve love and respect.

With so many stories it’s also inevitable that some of them won’t get the time they deserve. Aboriginal marginalisation, for instance, is a complex topic that is ill-suited to a comedy that can’t focus on it. One of the children wears an ankle-monitor which is played for a single laugh but never properly addressed. That’s practically the definition of lip-service, and it’s not the only instance of it. Elton is sincere in his desire to confront difficult issues, and his attempts are at least commendable, but the problems are also much bigger than he can manage in an already busy film.

Conservatives will bristle, but lefties will laugh at the shenanigans in Three Summers. It’s not a perfect film – Elton would do well to narrow his scope next time – but it’s genuine where it counts. It’s a kind-hearted comedy with some wonderful performances (Szubanski is just lovely) and a gorgeously Australian setting. It’s the perfect film for an outdoor screening on a warm summer’s eve so expect it to remain a mainstay of those events for years to come.

 

Three Summers is available in Australian cinemas from November 2.

Image courtesy of Transmission Films 2017

 

Movie Review – Mountain

A thematic sequel to acclaimed documentary Sherpa, Mountain sees filmmaker Jennifer Peedom tackle the allure and myths surrounding its namesake.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Directed by Australian documentarian Jennifer Peedom, Mountain is a unique cinematic and musical fusion that examines the power high places have on shaping our lives and dreams. A 74-minute odyssey that sees Peedom join forces with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Mountain offers audiences a moving aural experience as well as a visual one, with the Richard Tognetti-led orchestra matching the achingly beautiful cinematography with classical pieces from the likes of Beethoven and Vivaldi. With each aspect – music and images – given equal weight, Mountain is a strangely captivating cinematic experience that services a number of different purposes, making it hard to define.

On the one hand, it is a hypnotic ode to the maddening allure of mountaineering and the drive felt by those who feel the need to climb and conquer. But it’s also a commentary on the ‘domestication’ and manipulation of the wilderness for contemporary recreational activities as well as an examination of those who court danger and seek increasingly dangerous exploits at high altitudes.

At the same time, it’s also a love letter to the unquenchable geological power of mountains, as well as an exploration of shifting attitudes towards mountains throughout history, from reverence and worship to adventure and leisure. All this is tied together through soothing narration from Willem Dafoe, whose words are often poetic and enchanting.

You owe it to yourself to see this on as large a cinema screen as you can find, with an immersive sound system to boot. Even though it is scarcely longer than your average National Geographic special, Peedom’s stunning aerial photography is worth viewing on as large and loud a format as possible. It is an experience that is simultaneously absorbing and soothing, a symphony of music and moviemaking that holds your attention all the while informing and exciting.

Mountain is available in Australian cinemas from September 21 

Image (c) Madman Films & Stranger Than Fiction Films 2017

Movie Review – Ali’s Wedding

Continuing a grand tradition of romantic comedies, Ali’s Wedding is heart-warming fun.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Michael Philp

There’s something distinctly comforting about Ali’s Wedding. Maybe it’s the adorable way its leads hold pinky fingers and share tentative kisses. Perhaps it’s the fact that it presents its themes of oppression and family with tenderness and understanding. Or it could just be that it recalls some of my favourite comedies like Bend it Like Beckham and Muriel’s Wedding. Regardless, I found it impossible not to fall in love.

Ali’s Wedding follows the titular Ali (Osamah Sami), the son of a local Muslim cleric, as he first fails his medical entrance exam and then proceeds to cover that up with hilariously disastrous consequences. As that lie spirals out of control, Ali also manages to fall in love with Dianne (Helana Sawires), get engaged to Yomna (Maha Wilson), and play the lead in his mosque’s annual musical. To its credit, the film manages to juggle all of those scenarios excellently, presenting them with a warmth and charm that invites the audience into its world.

And it’s quite remarkable how well the film does that. From its first frames, Ali’s Wedding is firing on all cylinders to endear itself to you. Even potentially horrific moments are depicted with such finesse that they feel necessary and appropriate. Like its characters, Ali’s Wedding takes those events and allows them to inform a kind and loving worldview. There is pain at the centre of this story, but the film always remembers to let a ray of light shine through as well.

That’s important too, considering the subtext of the film. All but one of its characters is a devout Muslim, and the film doesn’t shy away from the realities of that. Dianne’s father serves this purpose particularly well as she both respects and bristles at his hard-line views. Presenting a balanced portrayal of those beliefs is difficult, but the film’s empathetic approach goes a long way towards selling the conflict to outsiders. Like Bend it Like Beckham, Ali’s Wedding sees the humanity behind its authority figures. Dianne’s father isn’t an evil man, he’s just following his faith and trying to protect his only daughter.

The lead performances are a huge part of that humanity as well, contributing a lot to the heart of the film. Sami is sincere, bright-eyed, and adorably charming as Ali, while Sawires is just as wonderful in her portrayal of Dianne’s carefully constructed defensiveness. Together, their chemistry anchors the film amidst the colours and noise of the Muslim community.

There’s a scene towards the end of the film where Ali’s father tells him that he is and always will be loved, regardless of his mistakes and the pain he has caused. To me, that’s key to the appeal of the film. An array of bright colours and awkward humour can’t substitute for real heart, but Ali’s Wedding has all three in spades. Its warmth and tenderness are beautifully realised and help to entice the viewer into a world they may initially be wary of. It is part of a much larger history of Australian and British comedies – there are comparisons to be made with even The Castle – and it slots in perfectly next to some of the greats. With luck, we will continue to see its core talents for years to come.

Ali’s Wedding is available in Australian cinemas from August 31

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment 

Movie Review – Killing Ground

Damien Power’s maiden voyage is often smooth and gripping, but lacks the on-board facilities to truly dazzle.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

About midway through Killing Ground, the debut feature from Damien Power, we realise we’ve been taken for a ride. Here is a dark, bloody, disturbing picture, told out of order, about two scumbag weirdos who skulk around the woods of the Australian outback terrorising innocent campers. Why? Because they can, I suppose. If Mr. Power believes humans harbour within an inherent taste for senseless evil, his two villains here should be studied as specimens. I’m inclined to think otherwise, which makes Killing Ground a bit baseless.

I love a good thriller, and this is a confident and well-made one. But I need to make sense of the violence that happens within. Killing Ground can trace its ancestry directly to Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), one of the cruellest and most eerie of films, but what it’s missing is the insanity of Chainsaw’s mayhem. That was a movie about a cannibalistic family in the middle of nowhere, driven mad by each other and the stench of death. The baddies in Killing Ground are neither cannibals nor insane. They are simply despicable, which might be the point, but Power doesn’t put a big enough stamp on it.

The plot traces three stories: one of Ian (Ian Meadows) and Sam (Harriet Dyer), a chemistry-free lovey-dovey couple set to see in the new year in a tent; the family of Margaret (Maya Stange), Rob (Julian Garner), Em (Tiarnie Coupland) and little Ollie; and the two psychos, German (Aaron Pedersen) and Chook (Aaron Glenane). The structure of the narrative sets the scene, and as it unfolds, pieces come together and some questions (not enough) are answered.

The film cedes its promising beginnings when it eventually becomes linear and turns into a run-of-the-mill slasher thriller in which the crazy bad guys pillage, rape, plunder and otherwise make camping very inconvenient for the enamoured couple. There is a shootout, a stand-off, a hostage crisis, some chases (both on foot and on wheels) and a very strange open-ended resolution that hints at a future more uncertain than the present.

And yet Killing Ground is a film with potential. It engendered uneasy feelings in me, but it lacks that ultimate spark of genius to make me think twice about my next camping trip. Both Pedersen and Glenane are convincing as menacing cavemen, and they share a few scenes in which they openly fret over the dangers of getting caught. But if they were truly mad, if they really believed in what they were doing, they would have flaunted their trophies for the world to see instead of making theirs a clandestine hobby. It would have upped the stakes because they’d have nothing to lose. And I would have been completely sold.

Killing Ground is available in Australian cinemas from August 24 

Image courtesy of Mushroom Pictures 

 

Best of Aussie Horror

Corey Hogan

Australia forever knocks it out of the park with its films, but before recent years, this century has made us famous for excelling in one particular genre – horror. Strange that our humble snag n’ footy loving little country could become associated with movies designed to make their audiences cower in terror, but perhaps our own filmmakers have a bit of a sadistic streak, or just know that people love to be rattled from the comfort of a cinema seat.

Like Japanese horror, they often do well internationally, earning back a box office hundreds of times more than their miniscule budgets; perhaps it’s because fear is something that translates into every language. Plenty of Aussies have rocked Hollywood with their ideas – the star players being the boys behind the über-successful Saw franchise, and the Spierig brothers, who manned the Ethan Hawke-starring Daybreakers and Predestination. But here’s a handful that were grown right here in our own backyard, and show a bit of Oz culture amidst the scares.

Wolf Creek (2005)

08 August 2017 - Best of Aussie Horror Wolf Creek

Two British tourists and their Australian friend are road tripping across Australia from Broome to Cairns, and stop for the night in the Wolf Creek National Park, famous for its meteorite crater. Big mistake – it also happens to be home to Mick Taylor (John Jarratt), a bushman who appears charming and helpful, but has extremely sadistic and torturous intentions for the trio.

The film that did for backpacking what Jaws did for the beach and The Blair Witch Project did for camping, Greg McLean’s debut is so terrifying purely because of how authentic it feels; that monsters like Mick Taylor could genuinely be lurking in the desolate patches of rural Australia. He’s become a true horror icon alongside the likes of Freddy Krueger and Jason Vorhees, but what makes Mick distinctive is that he could be mistaken for any Aussie bloke living in our own neighbourhoods; he’s a larrikin, true blue through and through, and surprisingly likeable – all the more chilling as he lures tourists into a false sense of security before he begins carving them up.

Proving himself enduring, the outback serial killer became the focus of a sequel and Stan miniseries, with a third film on the way.

Lake Mungo (2008)

08 August 2017 - Best of Aussie Horror Lake Mungo

After sixteen-year-old Alice Palmer drowns in a dam on a vacation, her grief-stricken family begin to notice strange occurrences happening in their house, and that a figure with Alice’s likeness is appearing in photographs and video footage. Convinced Alice is either possibly still alive or haunting them, the Palmers set up cameras to capture the mysterious going-ons overnight and uncover the bizarre circumstances surrounding her death.

Proving that ideas realised with next-to-no budget can be far scarier than multi-million dollar studio releases, Lake Mungo is a simple but deeply unsettling experience. Filmed in investigative documentary style, director Joel Anderson avoids jump scares (mostly) and instead creates a mood of pure dread as sinister figures are chillingly revealed to be lurking in everything the Palmers seem to capture. It’s an engaging mystery, and what the family discovers after a trail of clues leads them to the titular Lake Mungo will require you to leave all the lights on afterwards. Like Paranormal Activity but much smarter and much, much scarier.

The Babadook (2014)

08 August 2017 - Best of Aussie Horror The Babadook

Single mother Amelia (Essie Davis) is trapped in an unending depression spiral as she struggles to raise her nightmarishly erratic six-year-old son, who is plagued by insomnia and imaginary monsters. Things get worse when she reads him a bedtime story about Mister Babadook, a tall, shadowy and clawed creature. Amelia soon finds out that he’s quite real, and about to torment them both.

It’s hard to determine who is the bigger monster for Amelia in Jennifer Kent’s stunning debut – the Babadook himself, a genuinely frightening spectre, or her rage-inducing son Samuel (played perfectly by young Noah Wiseman); truly one of the most irritating characters in movie history. Then it could be Amelia’s grief itself, as the film doubles the affliction of the monster as a genius metaphor for depression and the psychological breakdown and damage it puts its affected through. Besides being thoroughly chilling, Kent’s film is far more thought-provoking than your average horror flick; it works on many different levels and contains ideas ripe for deep discussion. The Babadook himself received a recent resurge in popularity and now lives on, bizarrely enough, as a gay icon after mistakenly being categorised as an LGBT film on Netflix.

The Loved Ones (2009)

08 August 2017 - Best of Aussie Horror Loved Ones

After politely declining her offer to take her to the high school dance, Brent (Xavier Samuel) is attacked and abducted by his classmate Lola Stone (Robin McLeavy). He awakens imprisoned at her house, which her dad has turned into a personal prom for her, and is forced to endure the extremely gory consequences of rejecting the queen of her own demented dance.

Turning the stomach-churning torture porn subgenre on its ear, Sean Byrne (another debuting filmmaker) manages to make hyper-violent horror feel justified by backing it with insane but three-dimensional characters and a wicked streak of pitch-black comedy. With a blood-splattered smattering of frontal lobotomies performed with power drills and love hearts carved into human flesh with a fork alongside painfully cheesy lines and music by Kasey Chambers, The Loved Ones has its tongue firmly in cheek, as outrageously funny as it is wince-inducing. Our own school dances may have some embarrassing memories, but at least they weren’t quite as painful as this – or the copycat real life murder it inspired.

Interestingly, Wolf Creek’s John Jarratt turned down the role of Lola’s deranged father, fearing he might fall victim to typecasting.

Images courtesy of Roadshow Films, Mungo Productions, Umbrella Entertainment