Movie Review – BackTrack Boys

Australian filmmaker Catherine Scott makes a heartfelt documentary that looks into how troubled kids can be taken in and taught responsibility by caring for and training dogs.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Elle Cahill 

BackTrack Boys is about a rehabilitation program for troubled youths in New South Wales run by straight-talking Bernie Shakeshaft. The documentary follows three troubled kids, Zak, Tyrson, and Rusty who are all part of the Backtrack program, and their journey in and out of trouble as they struggle to take the lessons they learn through the program and apply them to their dysfunctional home life.

Similar to documentaries focused on groups of people like Jesus Camp and Dying to Live, what really makes BackTrack Boys a documentary worth watching are the characters featured. Director Catherine Scott does a brilliant job at drawing out the personalities of the three featured children and the harsh environments they have grown up in, which would have more than likely led them to a life in jail. Whether it be good-natured Zak who has worked his way through the Backtrack program to become a leader; Tyrson who regressed after leaving the program and wound up in jail for a couple of years; and the youngest of the group, Rusty whose foul-mouthed, tall tales are tolerated by the others as they realise he’s just a young kid who hasn’t had the easiest start to life.

The program itself is interesting in that Shakeshaft pairs the kids with a dog that they are expected to train, feed and prepare for local shows in events like high jump wall. The idea is that the dogs don’t judge the kids but instead give them a sense of responsibility. Intermingled in this are campfire heart-to-hearts, where the boys share stories, their feelings and fears when they’re ready to. It’s group theory done in a trusting environment and it’s Shakeshaft straight-talking both around the campfire and in private with the boys that helps them take responsibility for their actions, and more importantly, their lives.

The documentary is beautifully shot and Scott manages to get access to a lot of areas to really capture the kids’ realities (including the juvenile prison). Ultimately the documentary is about second chances and showing that there are alternatives for troubled kids, and that whilst these alternatives might be a bit left of field, they may just be the best circumstances for these kids to learn and grow into responsible adults.

BackTrack Boys  is available in Australian cinemas from October 25 (Western Australia limited release 27th -29th Oct)

Image courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment

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Movie Review – 1%

While 1% boasts some strong performances, its unremarkable story fails to live up to its high-octane setting.

⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic 

Shot right here in Perth, 1% is a crime drama set in the underworld of Australian motorcycle club gangs. It follows Vice President of the ‘Copperheads’ Paddo (Ryan Corr) who has been leading the group while President Knuck (Matt Nable) has been behind bars. As Knuck nears release from prison, Paddo’s younger brother Skink (Josh McConville) puts him in a compromising position that threatens his loyalty to both Knuck and the Copperheads. Paddo must decide how to solve his dilemma before he loses everything he’s worked for.

Corr does well in expressing the conflicting emotions of a man constantly having to weigh up his loyalties and juggle his relationships. The film continuously puts Paddo between a rock and a hard place, and Corr did a good job of earning my sympathy towards his character’s situation.

Another standout is Aaron Pedersen (Goldstone) as Sugar, the President of a rival gang. His screen presence is like a breath of fresh air and it’s disappointing that his role was reduced to just a few scenes. Pedersen has a natural charisma and I love seeing his career expanding.  I’ve only known him to play good guys, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how well he could take on a more villainous role.

What brings it all down is the story. One of the major flaws of the film is that all the conflicts are caused by one character: Paddo’s brother. Literally everything he does is a mistake that ends up causing more grief for Paddo. His role is essentially the only driving force moving the story along. Every scene he’s in made me roll my eyes because I knew he was going to do something wrong and then the film would try to resolve it. It became repetitive and boring.

There’s also some really questionable events. Without giving too much away, there’s a subplot with Knuck’s character that makes absolutely no difference to the story. And the final act has one of the strangest standoffs I’ve seen in a long time.

1% tries its hand at being a gritty Australian crime drama, but it’s let down by its thin narrative. The film is entirely carried by its performances, which are the only real reason you should go and see the film.

1% is available in Australian cinemas from October 12 

Image courtesy of Icon Film Distribution

Movie Review – Ladies In Black

Imagine a beautiful, simple world filled with 1950’s Hollywood glamour and natural Australian charm… well, that’s exactly the experience you’ll get from Bruce Beresford’s latest entry.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Cherie Wheeler 

Adapted from the novel by Madeleine St John, the titular ladies in black run the women’s clothing section at a high-end department store. From the young and naïve, yet sharply intelligent Lisa (Angourie Rice) who anxiously awaits her exam results, to the hopelessly romantic Fay (Rachael Taylor) who can’t catch a break in her dating life, each woman faces her own set of hurdles. While all so different – none more so than Slovenian socialite and style aficionado Magda (Julia Ormond) – they each make an impact on one another and form unexpected bonds.

Set in the late 50’s in Sydney, Ladies In Black is a reminder of a time when people were more appreciative of what they had. Even when what they had was so little. With no mobile phones or modern world pressures intruding upon them, the characters in Ladies In Black are free to fully enjoy their city, food, wine and each other at a leisurely pace.

In this sense, Bruce Beresford’s film is a breath of fresh air. But its simple ways can be a bit of a double-edged sword. Although each core character has some form of dilemma to tackle, there’s no real stakes at play. All the conflict is fairly superficial, and when darker themes do start to emerge, they’re mostly glossed over and forgotten.

Perhaps that’s OK, though. Maybe we need to have more films that don’t get bogged down in the real drudgeries of life. Especially Australian films. Until the last couple of years, many of our films tended to fall into 1 of 2 categories – outstanding gritty dramas that only a handful of people would go to see, or average comedies and B-grade fluff pieces. Recent times have certainly shown a shift, with talented filmmakers producing high quality, thought-provoking stuff that’s appealing to broader audiences. It may not be ground-breaking, but Ladies In Black is definitely a solid addition to our stream of newer films.

Its cast is essentially a ‘who’s hot right now’ showcase of Australian performers of all levels. There’s the legendary Noni Hazlehurst as the leader of the ladies in black, young up-and-comer Angourie Rice (Jasper Jones, The Nice Guys) and late bloomer Rachael Taylor (Jessica Jones), who’s only now starting to land decent roles roughly a decade into her career. After starring alongside his real life brother in Brother’s Nest earlier this year, here Shane Jacobson features as Lisa’s simple-minded father, and Ryan Corr, who’s managed to get himself into every Australian film from Ali’s Wedding to Holding The Man, here presents as a key love interest.

Corr steals the show from the moment he struts in sprouting an oddly spot-on Hungarian accent. He’s the source of a lot of comedy and fits the role of a charming and cultured European immigrant like a glove. Julia Ormond, one of the very few non-Australian cast members, follows closely behind him as the posh and judgemental, yet well-meaning Magda, and she is truly a joy to watch.

Ladies In Black is like a fizzy glass of lemonade on a warm summer’s day – it’s sweet and refreshing, easy to enjoy and free of any bitter aftertaste. If that’s the type of movie you’re in the mood for, then you can’t do much better than this one.

Ladies In Black is available in Australian cinemas from September 20

Also screening as part of  the RoofTop Movies Program 1 on Nov 14.

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

Hooked On CinefestOZ

Elle Cahill

CinefestOZ was quite the event this year. Sigrid Thornton won the CinefestOZ 2018 Screen Legend award in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the Australian film industry. Minister for Local Government, Heritage, Culture and the Arts, the Honourable David Templeman talked about his “soiled” crotch. And Jirga took out the $100k Film Prize.

Some of the HOF team were lucky enough to journey down to the South West and enjoy all the food, wine and films on offer. So, without any further ado, here’s our top picks from the 2018 festival.

Madhattan
Documentary

Madhattan follows the story of Broome local, Felicity ‘Flic’ Brown as she prepares for her first solo show in New York Fashion Week. The documentary is full of beautiful landscapes, regional Australian personalities and more importantly, a lead subject whose positive outlook on life is contagious.

CinefestOZ Madhattan September 2018

Director, producer and cinematographer Carolyn Constantine does an exceptional job of capturing Western Australia as she follows Flic all over the Pilbara region. Constantine very carefully shows the change in environment once Flic arrives in New York, with one week to prepare for her show. The change of pace is rapid, and while Flic’s mega-watt smile never falters, the experience is draining on her as the usual hiccups take place.

The documentary wouldn’t have been the success that it is without Flic. She radiates energy and her enthusiasm for her creations is truly captivating. There is no life-changing event that happened to make Flic pursue her passion. The documentary is simply about a woman who fell in love with a craft and worked hard at it to become a success story, and there’s something beautiful in that alone.

Dying To Live
Documentary

Dying To Live takes an in-depth look into organ and tissue transplantation in Australia as it follows the story of five people who are all in desperate need of a donation. The documentary is absolutely heart-breaking as director Richard Todd carefully navigates through each person’s story, capturing the rawness of each individual’s ups and downs.

CinefestOZ Dying To Live September 2018

The documentary ultimately highlights the importance of having the conversation about organ donation with your family, while also showing a rare insight into the whole process. Todd makes a point of highlighting the fact that organ donation can be needed at any age, and that once an organ has been matched to a person on the list, the process doesn’t stop there as sometimes the organs don’t take immediately.

Overall, it’s a tearjerker that carries an important message about being able to give the gift of life after you or your loved one have passed on.

Reaching Distance
Feature Film

Reaching Distance follows Logan who wakes on a bus late at night to find one of the other passenger’s is his twin sister’s killer. As Logan continues to relive his interaction with the man and his fellow passengers on the bus, he begins to realise that all their lives are entwined and not all is as it seems.

CinefestOZ Reaching Distance September 2018

Reaching Distance is the first offering from director David Fairhurst, and it marks him as one to watch. He has created a clever and dramatic exploration of the effects guilt can have on a person and how their previous actions can impact their conscience long after the event. Fairhurst puts a unique spin on the idea of purgatory and forgiveness and delivers it with thought.

Armed with a talented cast, particularly lead actor Wade Briggs, the film unfolds in twists and turns, with the truth slowly coming to light. Despite the film sometimes drawing out for too long in some parts, the film is a great first offering from Fairhurst, and one that keeps you thinking long after the final credits have rolled.

Finke: There and Back
Documentary

CinefestOZ Finke There And Back September 2018

Finke: There and Back follows five people’s stories as they prepare for the Finke Desert Race – one of the longest off-road motorsport tracks in the world, which also happens to be Australia’s most deadly motor sport event. The documentary gives an insight into the relatively unknown event (for those outside of the motorsport world), and the perils that those who race it regularly come up against.

Director Dylan River not only sheds light on those who are willing to risk everything for the race, but also to those who have risked everything and lost, like Isaac Elliott. He decides to take on the course again despite being a paraplegic from a horrific crash that took place while training for the Finke race in 2007.

The documentary is a clever piece of work, and doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities that some of the racers come into contact with. It is packed full of footage from the race and many close calls that will leave you gasping as the film unfolds.

CinefestOZ image sourced from cinefestoz.com.au. Madhattan image sourced from madhattanthemovie.com.au, courtesy of Constantine Productions. Dying to Live image sourced from IMDb.com, courtesy of Aquarius Productions & Gifting Life Pty Ltd.  Reaching Distance image sourced from IMDb.com, courtesy of Reaching Distance Pty Ltd. Finke: There and Back image sourced from screenaustralia.gov.au, courtesy of Brindle Films Pty Ltd . 

Movie Review – Living Universe

Living Universe tackles the complex subject matter of life on other planets outside our solar system, and if there is a possibility for humans to be able to make a new planet our new home.

Elle Cahill

Living Universe is an exploration into the search for another planet that mankind can eventually call a second home. The documentary features interviews with world-renowned scientists who are working within the field of space and biodiversity to pinpoint exactly what humans need to survive, and if planets outside our solar system could ever be a possibility.

While it poses some real questions about our future and the changing environment of our home planet, Living Universe is ultimately cluttered. Alongside the interviews and stock footage of our Earth is a CGI simulation of a future shuttle heading to the far reaches of the universe. This simulation is woven in and out of the documentary, providing the audience with updates as the shuttle moves further and further out of our solar system.

Often jarring, the simulation seems unnecessary for the most part, and it feels at times as though directors Alex Barry and Vincent Amouroux tried so hard to make the simulation engaging  that they neglected some of the science that needed to be further fleshed out. I easily could have listened to more of the interview with astrophysicist Sara Seager (pictured above), but her interview tine was sacrificed for the appearance of the simulation.

The charm of this documentary is the pure enthusiasm that the interviewees have as they talk about our possible future on another planet. Their excitement is contagious and makes you sit up and take interest in their theories. To their credit, Barry and Amouroux have managed to cut through a lot of the jargon that usually comes with this kind of subject matter and have served it up in a way that’s still complex, but not confusing.

Overall, the documentary offers an intriguing subject matter, but the added component of the simulation makes it feel drawn out and reduces it to feeling like a documentary you would watch in science class at high school.

Living Universe screens for one night only in Perth at Event Cinemas Innaloo 

Image courtesy of Essential Media and Entertainment Pty Ltd

 

Interview – Jordon Prince-Wright: The Decadent and Depraved

Rhys Pascoe

A five-year production from pen to paper to premiere, The Decadent and Depraved has been making waves with audiences across the state since its big unveiling last December. The first idea came about while director Jordon Prince-Wright was still at high school. Twelve months later, Prince-Wright pitched the idea to co-director Axel August, with whom he had recently completed a short film.

The rest, as they say, is history, and now the directorial duo are knee-deep in a winding regional tour that intends to showcase the film to as wide and as varied an audience as possible. Not just a hit here at home, The Decadent and Depraved has been garnering acclaim overseas as well, recently receiving five accolades from the Los Angeles Film Awards.

Taking a break from the regional tour, Prince-Wright – a self-described underdog from Morley Camerahouse – took some time to chat with Hooked On Film about the production of WA’s biggest independent film to date.

“We were filming while I was 19 and 20, and a lot of people were telling me it wasn’t possible,” Prince-Wright said. “I didn’t really know what was involved, but I did know what was involved, if you know what I mean. It was a real learning process on set.

“I initially envisaged The Decadent and Depraved as a showreel piece – that’s what I set out to make. It turned out to be one hell of a showreel piece and sort of snowballed from there. What started as a quirky Western turned into a full-blown feature film.

“It was halfway through shooting, while I was sat on the verandah of this big manor house in Yalgoo with the 200 cast and crew, that it actually hit me. It was a real ‘holy crap’ moment – what have I gotten myself into.”

The Decadent and Depraved Teaser Trailer from Prince-Wright Productions on Vimeo.

 

Hooked On Film: The traditional Western isn’t something we see much of nowadays, nothing like the volume of the classic studio era – what prompted you to dive into this genre?

Jordon Prince-Wright: I grew up watching classic westerns as a kid. The old black and white films of John Wayne were my childhood, as opposed to superheroes and cartoons. I grew into more spaghetti westerns and high content rating western films, as I grew older. So the western genre has always been a genre I’ve been fond of and adored. In saying this, I watch many other genres, but anything that is not set in today’s era and is a period piece is definitely my forte.

I mean I’ve been getting offers to direct and produce other films since high school, all of which are period pieces, so the reputation for what I am good at is out and the next film coming up is going to be even closer to my heart, not only because it’s a WWI film, but also because it’s based on a true story of Western Australians from regional WA who went to the Somme and the Western Front.

HOF: The Decadent and Depraved takes a distinctive genre – the Western – and supplants it into a local setting. Was it a challenge to take the rich American iconography – Stetsons, spurs, and bandoliers – and give them a distinctly Western Australian spin?

JPW: I had the upper hand with all the amazing locations up north. Once we were there and looking at the amazing wide shots with the red dirt it was distinctly Australian. When WA people see that on screen, they know right away that it’s WA. We’ve got a lot of the stereotypical stuff in there – the spurs, the hats – but it still looks like WA.

August2018_JordanPrinceWright_DecadentandDepraved_2

HOF: A core theme of the film is “upholding morality in an immoral world”. Can you tell us about any classic Westerns that may have inspired The Decadent and Depraved? Or maybe something else entirely?

JPW: I love my old school films; The Magnificent Seven, Sergio Leone films, John Wayne. I would say names like Yul Brynner, John Wayne, Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen and my friends in school wouldn’t know who they were. I would even go to school dressed as a character from a western and they would ask if I was Woody from Toy Story!

The thing is, all those characters in those films were in a way ‘one layered’ and to the audience it was simple separating the protagonist from the antagonist. Yet when you really look into it, I always would question why both were committing murder and stealing while roaming the vast landscape. What made their choices any better than the other? Both were killing for what he believed was right. With The Decadent and Depraved, I really wanted to blur the lines between good and evil with my characters. Throwing them into a world of corruption just made that all the more real.

HOF: A key consideration during the shoot was minimising the need for ‘CGI tricks’ and preserving that gritty Western aesthetic. Why?

JPW: I have a real love for old school cinema. With this film, throwing in camera tricks and CGI would have ruined some of the classic storytelling I was looking for. They didn’t have them back in the old days, so we weren’t going to cheat.

Also, it’s a western. As an audience member going to see a western, or any period piece for that matter, I am going to see something ‘real’, to be transported into a whole new world, and I think CGI in a way ruins it as we are just creating a world in a computer as opposed to putting thought and energy into actually recreating in real life.

In The Decadent and Depraved, there were no replica firearms. All of them are original 1860s firearms, all of which fire black powder with no CGI tricks. The actors are riding horses and the stunts are real. When you combine this with shooting in -5°C and rain, it all creates an epic aesthetic, which is something the entire cast and crew endeavored to get right.

August2018_JordanPrinceWright_DecadentandDepraved_4

HOF: How important was it to uphold historical accuracy and authenticity on this production?

JPW: Our job as filmmakers is to entertain. We can make people think, laugh, cry and jump in their seats, but it all comes back to being entertained. If you’re not entertained as an audience, the film most likely won’t stick with you. It probably sounds obvious when you state it, but sometimes I think filmmakers get so roped into making their film exactly how they envisioned it or how it must be exactly historically correct that they start to lose the audience. Therefore, yes the backbone of the story was to keep this historically correct, but when we felt we needed to, we pushed the boundaries. I think this has paid off extremely well in entertaining those who would not normally watch or be entertained by a genre like this.

HOF: There are some truly stunning WA landscapes featured in the film – what was the scouting process like when you’re such remote locations?

JPW: Long story short, at the premiere of my previous short films, the Shire of Yalgoo were present, as I had got them on board with Red Dirt a few years ago. At that premiere they asked what was next – of course I mentioned the western and what I was after. A few weeks later they flew Axel and I up, and away we went looking for locations. Before you knew it I had neighboring shires contacting me about their possible locations, sites, landmarks that we could use the film, and it all just flowed from there.

HOF: You’ve been touring the film around rural Western Australia over the last few months, from Cue and Leonora to Yalgoo. What has the response been like from the locals?

JPW: It was the scariest thing ever. We had WA’s largest premiere. Lots and lots of people. I can’t remember the premiere at all, actually. It’s just a blur. These were the guys who had a hand in making the film, whether that means helping us out in kind or shooting in their backyard – literally, because their backyard is this huge rural station.

In Yalgoo, 80% of the audience was indigenous and some of them were in tears at the end of the film. They were so overwhelmed and emotional. In Cue we had 200+ people all dressed as cowboys – that was one hell of a night. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, you get to Sandstone and they all bring a plate of food, real country-like. In Esperance, they were laughing at things that I didn’t think were funny. It’s really interesting seeing what different audiences respond to.

August2018_JordanPrinceWright_DecadentandDepraved_3

The Decadent and Depraved will screen at Orana Cinemas in Kalgoorlie, Busselton, Albany and Geraldton on Wednesday August 29 as part of its ongoing regional tour. Visit www.princewrightproductions.com/screenings for more information and to book.

Movie Review – Brothers’ Nest

The Jacobson Brothers take sibling rivalry and daddy issues to the extreme. Once your pulse has settled after Hereditary, get ready for another fucked up family blood pressure test.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan 

Early on a cold morning out somewhere in the Victorian countryside, two middle-aged brothers, Terry (Shane Jacobson) and Jeff (Clayton Jacobson), arrive at their old, isolated family home. Their plan: murder their stepfather and stage his suicide in a bid to convince their terminally ill mother to alter her will so that she leaves them the house instead. The meticulously-plotted scheme seems foolproof, but what the brothers don’t plan for is the day they will spend together, their differing opinions and the bad blood that will resurface, among other unexpected road bumps.

It’s been twelve years since the Jacobson brothers’ smash hit mockumentary Kenny dominated the Australian box office , but their reteaming has been well worth the wait. Brothers’ Nest definitely doesn’t have the broad appeal that Kenny did, but it’s an even better film for it. An intelligently crafted and surprisingly dark tale that slings sudden twists and turns at its unsuspecting audience like bullets, it’s a film of changing genres. It wears its Coen Brothers’ influence on its sleeve as it bounces between goofball buddy crime and black comedy, before seguing seamlessly into intense thriller territory.

That it works so well is down to the real-life brothers’ effortless chemistry. In classic squabbling-odd-couple fashion, the brothers’ yin each other’s yang. Clayton’s Jeff is the no-nonsense man in charge, the one with everything obsessively planned out so that the murder goes off without a hitch. His folly is Shane’s Terry, the slightly more witless and bumbling other half, whose incessant questioning and emotions bubbling to the surface feel like a liability to the operation from the start. Their exchanges are priceless as Terry cluelessly causes complications by botching supposedly simple tasks.

Though the Jacobson’s have shared a respectable career apart over more than a decade with their own acting and directing efforts, let’s hope it isn’t another twelve years before Shane and Clayton get together as a filmmaking team again. If Brothers’ Nest is anything to go by, Australia could very well have its own siblings to rival the Coen Brothers.

Brothers’ Nest is available in Australian cinemas from June 21 

Image courtesy of Label Distribution 

Movie Review – Upgrade

Slick, scorching, grisly and clichéd AF – strap in for an Upgrade.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Pascoe

Written and directed by Leigh Whannell (Saw, Insidious), new Australian film Upgrade is a screaming collision of Paul Verhoeven tech-thriller, grimy cyberpunk mystery and grotesque David Cronenberg body horror. There are moments of intense gore and dark humour, with fantastic choreography and inventive camerawork tying it all together. Think Robocop and Minority Report meets John Wick and Avatar.

If that sounds like your kind of thing, buckle in for a wild ride. Whannell serves up a frenetic 90-minute sci-fi thriller that opens with Grey (Logan Marshall-Green) and wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) brutally assaulted by a quartet of cybernetic thugs. Waking up in hospital as a paraplegic, Grey’s only hope for exacting revenge is an experimental computer chip called STEM (Simon Maiden), which not only gives him the ability to walk, but also kick-ass and take names. It also talks to only him and feeds him advice, sort of like if the devil on your shoulder had a baby with a vaguely sarcastic Siri knock-off.

Even if it’s a setting and a premise we’ve seen umpteen times before, Upgrade is garnished with just enough to keep it afloat. The futuristic tech is believable and the stream of dark humour is fun and ensures the bleak Black Mirror-esque paranoia isn’t suffocating. Marshall-Green is the real standout though; his performance is touching, hilarious and badass, sometimes in the very same scene. Just the right balance of mirth and gravitas for this hokey B-movie fluff.

Where Upgrade struggles is its plot; the twists and turns are immediately obvious to anyone with half a brain and are ripped straight from the guidebook on dark sci-fi horror. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all, I guess.

Upgrade is available in Australian cinemas from June 14 

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment 

Movie Review – Cargo

In a post-apocalyptic Australia, Martin Freeman plays Andy, a man roaming the outback desperate to find sanctuary for his daughter before he turns into a zombie. Along the way, he encounters Thoomi a young girl who agrees to help Andy if for nothing more than the company in a vastly decreasing population of unaffected people.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Elle Cahill

Cargo, from first time filmmakers Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke, follows the story of Andy as he desperately tries to make his way across the outback in a post-apocalyptic Australia to try and get his one-year-old daughter to safety before he succumbs to a zombie virus. Along the way, he meets Thoomi, a young girl who is to protect her zombified father from being killed and who may just be able to help lead him and his daughter to safety.

Zombie films are hard sells nowadays, and a zombie film in the outback an even harder one. With the ever growing list of zombie franchises such as the popular TV series The Walking Dead, iZombie and Santa Clarita Diet, and the endless Resident Evil films, not to mention the standalone films Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead and World War Z (just to name a few), there are few angles left to take.

Surprisingly, Cargo manages to carefully straddle the line between formulaic and unique to present a film that is recognisable enough in its themes and plot for audiences to understand they’re watching a zombie film, but its careful characterisation and location choice ultimately present a different take on the whole zombie epidemic.

Martin Freeman is brilliant as the helpless Andy who’s just trying to keep his family safe. His paternal protectiveness of his young daughter Rosie is his drive throughout the entire film, and is played to such precision that it gives the whole film purpose, that is often missing from traditional zombie films. Newcomer Simone Landers is wonderfully strong and insightful as Thoomi. Her powerful belief in her culture’s traditional rituals is never portrayed as naïve but instead is a sliver of hope in a largely doomed world.

Ultimately this film isn’t about a zombie-virus invasion or white vs. Indigenous culture; it is simply a story of survival, where the outback is no longer a dangerous environment but actually a sanctuary, and where the people remaining are trying to survive in any way they know how. Whilst the film contains the necessary drone shots of the Australian outback for the international viewers, it portrays the outback in a completely different way as well, almost as Australians see it rather than something to be feared.

I’d definitely recommend giving this film a watch, if not for a different take on Australian culture in cinema or a unique offering to the zombie genre, then at least for Martin Freeman owning this role like a boss.

Cargo is available in Australian cinemas from May 17 

Image courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment

Movie Review – The Gateway

This Perth-produced sci-fi thriller earns a B+ for ambition, but can’t quite make the grade anywhere else.

⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan 

Jane Chandler’s (Jacqueline McKenzie) time is unevenly split between her family and her all-consuming job as a particle physicist on the brink of creating a functioning teleportation device. A breakthrough in her work reveals that her machine does not in fact transport matter, but instead sends it to a parallel universe; a revelation put on hold abruptly when Jane’s husband (Myles Pollard) is killed in a car accident. Overwhelmed with grief and unable to cope without him, she journeys to a parallel universe to bring back another version of her husband – without realising that the universe he is from has dark and violent tendencies.

The term ‘know your limits’ exists for a reason. It’s a rule that applies to filmmakers too; your idea may be bold, but that might not outweigh the resources you have available to you or the cliché-ridden script that embalms it. Someone should probably have told this to director/co-writer John V. Soto (Crush, Needle), whose heart is most certainly in the right place, but really should have been a bit more creative in bringing his sci-fi thriller The Gateway to life.

There’s always juicy potential in a premise that involves teleportation and multiple variations of our universe, and Soto starts engagingly enough with the determined Jane and her lab partner Regg (Ben Mortley) racing against the clock to make their matter-transporting passion project come to life before their executives cut their funding. It might not be such of a problem for international audiences, but right off the bat, the very blatantly Perth setting throws any credibility straight out the window – at least for local viewers. Perth audiences will no doubt scoff at the idea that our government would possibly commission scientists to experiment with the unbelievable, instead of, say, spending tax dollars on more speed cameras. Amazingly, in a film that features reality-hopping and lethal alien tasers, this is the most far-fetched concept.

Soto’s biggest downfall is shooting for that Hollywood blockbuster feel on a budget that is barely a fraction of their cost. As a result, his dependence on visual effects derails proceedings, bleeding the little money the production had into a hodgepodge of tacky CGI. Worse is the poor lighting palette and filters (particularly in the drab dystopia of the parallel world), which gives this the shabby feel of a Syfy Channel original.

Soto should have looked to his micro-budgeted peers for inspiration. Take James Ward Byrkit’s Coherence, for example. On an even smaller budget, it managed to be far more engaging and thought-provoking without the reliance on any visual trickery, simply because it focused instead on making its characters strong and ideas heard. And as a local filmmaker, Soto should have taken a leaf from Ben Young’s book; last year’s Hounds of Love was miniscule in scale and yet enormous in impact and resonance. Bigger is not always better – what’s the point in copying Hollywood when forming our own creative identity is much more interesting?

It’s not all bad of course. Jacqueline McKenzie does her best in attempting to elevate the material, as does Ben Mortley in forming a likable enough partnership. The early mix of science and family stuff fares fine separately; it’s just unfortunate to see it culminate in Myles Pollard doing his best Robert Patrick in Terminator 2 impression to become killer dad and hunt down his family. As tempting as it is to support local productions, the truth is you can see the same elsewhere and executed much more successfully.

The Gateway is available in selected Australian cinemas from May 3

Image courtesy of Rialto Distribution