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

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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

Interview: Rob Livings – Two People

Thomas Munday 

Two People has, in every sense of the term, something for everyone. A twenty-something girl (Liberty Hills) takes some time out from domesticity to wander bars and comedy stores in Northbridge alone. She strikes up a conversation with a comedian (Nick Pages-Oliver) and after missing the last train home, the two begin an elongated conversation throughout the middle of the night.

Director, editor and co-writer Rob Livings peaks into the average twenty-something’s mind in this low-budget, walking-and-talking feature that was shot over four nights in the Perth CBD and Northbridge. Filmed in black and white, Livings and co’s latest utilises the budget, gear and location at their disposal to a desired effect.

Livings chatted with Hooked on Film about his cast, production challenges and how one night can change our lives.

TM: How did you conceive of the idea for the film?

RL: With Two People, I don’t think it was ever intended to be what it became, we were just like ‘let’s try and make a feature for nothing and we’ll just do it overnight, a couple of nights a week and figure it out as we go and do it in an improvised fashion’. We just held a little meeting about it, everyone was keen and then it just went from there. So, it was very much – ‘Let’s get together, shoot it chronologically and see what happens’.

It’s a very simple idea but it was a matter of whether we could pull it off the way we wanted to, we were like: ‘Let’s shoot it multi-cam, let’s treat it so when we’re editing it’s just dumping in a timeline’. There’s so many ways to move quickly in production, but there is not many ways to make a film quickly in post-production, so let’s try and find a way to find an answer for both of those.

TM: How was it to go from shorter-form projects to feature filmmaking?

RL: Switching to feature film was good, but it was just more targeting a new way of making a movie, so fully improvising the dialogue, going against what you learn in film school – basically, taking what you’ve learned from a technical aspect and throwing away everything else and building over. It was really fun and exciting to do something different, – shooting at night when no one is around. It was like Northbridge became this canvas we could do whatever we wanted with.

TM: A lot of the movie feels realistic, how much was scripted before filming and how much was improvised on set?

RL: Every bit of dialogue is improvised, we knew we had a start and we had an ending. We knew where we were going to be shooting because we had access to certain places. The film was set around who we knew and what we had and that’s kind of the point when you’re working for no money, you’ve just got to make the most of what you’ve got.

This film was very much a ‘make it up as you go’, but just let’s get to that ending and let’s get to the finish line however we need to. If things were steering in one direction we’d make sure they went back the other way. I’d say 90% of it happened whilst we were filming and the 10% was planned so it was very, very loose and I was just happy to see where it took us.

TM: How does Perth stand out as a good movie setting?

RL: I love Perth and like everyone in Perth. People have complained about the quiet nature of Perth many times. I think Perth works really well, I would encourage people to shoot at night here because there is literally no one around so you can kind of just create this world if you go to the right spots. For me, in this film they seem like they are alone and on their own, even within the bar there is a couple of people there. That whole quiet nature of Perth really works to people’s benefit, so you don’t have to deal with sound issues or the issues that you might have in a busy city like Sydney or Melbourne.

TM: This movie relies entirely on interaction, why is human behaviour so pertinent to drama, comedy and cinema in general?

RL: I think you can be your own character, anyone can reference with it. The characters in this film are so realistic and so down to Earth. I know that’s something that might push some people away, they might not want to relate to real life; they might want to go in there and watch something that takes them out of what is going on, but it is interesting to see people in this vulnerable state where they are willing to kind of open up. Well, at least, Liberty’s character was vulnerable whereas Nick’s was a bit more guarded. That’s just two different types of people and when you put them together it’s an interesting situation.

Image courtesy of Rob Livings 

Top Knot Detective – Revelation Perth International Film Festival

Riotously funny, Top Knot Detective is what happens when you watch too much late-night SBS.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Michael Philp 

It’s hard to describe Top Knot Detective to the uninitiated. Its list of influences includes Power Rangers, midnight SBS insanity and legendarily bad films like The Room. Imagine a mockumentary retrospective on Kung Fury, and you’ll have some grasp of what you’re in for. If those things don’t float your boat, the exit is to your right. For everyone else, Top Knot Detective is brilliant and it deserves to be on your must-see list.

Top Knot details the rise and fall of fictional 90’s Japanese TV show Ronin Suiri Tentai (Deductive Reasoning Ronin), zeroing in on the show’s creator/director/star/writer Takashi Tawagoto (Toshi Okuzaki), who is described as “Errol Flynn without the STD’s or the talent”. Through interviews with his co-stars and the show’s crew, the film builds a fascinating and hilarious portrait of a young man swept up in the creative process.

There are so many things to love about Top Knot. The number of jokes per minute is phenomenal, and just about each one lands perfectly. On top of that, the level of care on display is remarkable. From the acting to the background details, everything around the show is on-point. Even the tie-in advertisements and archive photos feel beautifully real, and you’ll often forget that everything you’re seeing has come directly from the minds of directors Aaron McCann and Dominic Pearce. Top Knot Detective isn’t just a send-up of cheap, over the top Japanese cinema, it’s McCann and Pearce’s love letter to the genre. Theirs is a world of giant penis monsters, talk shows with cats, and gloriously ridiculous (and ridiculously gory) action scenes. If that sentence interests you, Top Knot Detective cannot be recommended enough.

Top Knot Detective is screening at Revelation Film Festival (6-19 July)

Image courtesy of Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) and Revelation Film Festival 

Descent into the Maelstrom – Revelation Perth International Film Festival

Descent into the Malestrom is a high energy journey into the success, and failings, of 70’s Aussie rock’n’roll band Radio Birdman.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill 

In 1974 in Sydney, a young American man named Deniz Tek formed the band Radio Birdman with Rob Younger. Following the recruitment of four other members, Radio Birdman went on to cause a stir in the Australian music scene, with their unconventional take on rock’n’roll and their determination to stay true to their original brand of music. Whilst the band had a short run of success, with the members of the band choosing to part ways in 1978, they became the influence for many mainstream Australian bands.

The genius of Descent into the Maelstrom lies in director Jonathan Sequeira’s complete understanding of the band. There are so many elements at play that are carefully hidden behind the guise of a historical documentary as Sequeira explores the band’s rise to fame. But this documentary offers so much more, and much like the music of Radio Birdman, it refuses to stick to traditional documentary conventions.

The first half of the documentary is littered with wild tales as retold by the band members, now well into their 60’s, and discusses their struggle to be taken seriously in the music scene. There is an incredible archive of footage and photos from Radio Birdman’s performances, which makes up the majority of the visual content for the documentary, but it’s the clever use of storyboard animations that help to fill the gaps in the footage that adds a little extra something, and makes the documentary slightly unusual.

The second half of the documentary takes on a quiet, reflective state as the band are picked up by a label and begin touring internationally in 1977. The more they tour, the more the cracks in the group become irreparable, and this is supported with a definite change in mood in the present-day interviews as the band members become more solemn and disgruntled about how Radio Birdman ended.

Descent into the Maelstrom does well in immersing the audience into this world of rock’n’roll, but there’s also a certain amount of assumed knowledge that is expected of the audience. Knowledge of the state of the Australian music scene at this time is helpful, as well as knowing a bit about the punk scene, both on an international scale, and on a more local, Australian scale. There’s a lot of reminiscing about forgotten bands and pubs that no longer exist, which can leave you missing the significance of these details if you’re just that bit too young.

Descent into the Maelstrom, much like Radio Birdman’s music and band ethos, is raw, gritty and unorthodox, but it’s the honest portrayal of the highs and lows of Radio Birdman’s short rise to fame, and subsequent conflict within the band, that makes this documentary so interesting.

Descent into the Maelstrom is screening at Revelation Film Festival (6-19 July)

Image courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment & Revelation Film Festival

Watch The Sunset – Revelation Perth International Film Festival

Watch the Sunset is a remarkable achievement that maintains a gripping momentum… almost until the end.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Michael Philp

The one-take genre of drama is small; its most oft-cited works being Victoria and Russian Ark. It’s a format that lends itself to intense realism, but is also hampered by logistical constraints. Watch the Sunset, filmed over the course of an afternoon in Kerang, Victoria, delivers the former in spades, but fails to overcome the trappings of its genre.

The film opens with a brief montage of documentary footage on the drug ice, giving context to the film’s first scene: a man, Danny (Tristan Barr), driving a devastated young woman, Charis (Zia Zantis-Vinycomb) to a motel and locking her in a room. From here, Danny abandons her to attempt to reconnect with his ex-wife and daughter. For good reasons, the former doesn’t want a bar of him, and her reservations are proven legitimate when things take a turn for the worst.

For the vast majority of the film, the camera sticks to Danny like a small child, allowing the audience a stomach-churning view of the proceedings. There is a remarkable level of authenticity on display: every actor nails the realism and depth necessary to breathe life into the single take, and the camera is there at every step to unflinchingly capture their performances. Better still, it manages to pull off the impressionistic angle just as well, with several clever uses of reflection elevating Damien E. Lipp’s cinematography.

Sadly, the film goes off the rails near the end. A brief monologue on “what separates us from the animals” comes off as egregiously empty philosophising, and the film never recovers enough to deliver the rousing finale you want. If this were a normal film, the editing bay might have caught that and cut the scene down, but the single-take genre allows no such leeway.

Watch the Sunset is a powerful film: its performances are devastatingly real, and its achievements are awe-inspiring. Every member of the crew deserves commendation; they have pulled off one of cinema’s most daring feats with aplomb, producing a film that will keep you on the edge of your seat almost until the very end.

Watch the Sunset is screening at Revelation Film Festival (6-19 July) 

Image courtesy of BarrLipp Productions and Revelation Film Festival 

Movie Review – Hotel Coolgardie

Between Perth and Kalgoorlie lurks a remote location that appears devoid of humanity; the outskirts of civilisation in Western Australia may be more formidable than we think.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan 

Every three months, the Denver City Hotel in Coolgardie – a stopover country town frequented by miners and industrial workers to and from Kalgoorlie – hires new barmaids (or “fresh meat”) to serve the patrons of its bar. Two Finnish backpackers in their mid-twenties, Lina and Stephie, are the Hotel’s latest additions. Having been robbed on a vacation in Bali, they need jobs fast, and are sent by a Perth recruitment agency to this town far from civilisation. Little do they know that the next few months will become hell for these girls, as they find themselves the subject of farcical levels of abuse, objectification and harassment from their employers, the locals and the pub’s many visitors.

Every now and then, a documentary comes along that makes you truly wonder whether or not everyone involved was actually in on it and if it was all staged. Surely anyone would want to make themselves look better if they knew their words and actions were being caught on camera, right? Raw & Cooked Media’s Hotel Coolgardie is one of those rare films that manages to perfectly create a fly-on-the-wall feeling, almost as if there is no film crew present and we’re simply watching reality unfold before our eyes. In a volatile situation like this in particular, it must have taken a great deal of restraint for director Pete Gleeson and his team to not interfere and get involved with the (often traumatic) conflict going on at this hotel.

‘Responsible drinking’ seems to be a naff concept in this place; from their very first night on the job, Lina and Stephie are barked orders from their boss Pete as he drowns himself in alcohol alongside the rest of the bar’s patrons. The girls, given essentially no training, struggle to keep up with the constant orders, counting cash and pouring drinks while they are sworn at, insulted and humiliated by the drunken crowd surrounding them.

It only gets worse from here. They’re frequently advanced upon in shockingly crass ways by countless men, given misguided gifts from older blokes whose fancy they’ve taken, urged into arguments by drunks who are a little too open about their life problems, and even find themselves forcing people out of their rooms who have wandered in without invitation. They’re made to endure a camping trip that results in serious health ramifications and professional embarrassment. The girls remain good natured and deal with their situation well, despite how increasingly uncomfortable things become throughout their stay.

It’d be too streamlined to take this all as a deconstruction of “fragile masculinity”, especially considering that some of the residents that belittle and criticise the girls for their looks, physique and demeanour are women. This is more of a look at the way of life in these desolate places far from what we would perceive as a normal, sophisticated way of life. These people live their lonely lives on the road, only ever interacting with a small circle of other human beings and doing what they need to just to get by. Despite how unpleasant they can be, it’s difficult to not feel a little sorry for some of them, clearly so desperate for human interaction they’ll go about it the only way they know how (despite how awful that may seem to us).

Most amazing is how natural everyone seems to be, seemingly uncaring (or unaware) of what image they’ve made of themselves to appear on screen. It’s an incredible feat Raw & Cooked have accomplished in giving us an organic and exposed observation of everyday life just a few hundred kilometres away; it’s an incredible, if somewhat sinister, experience.

Hotel Coolgardie is available in Australian cinemas from June 15

Image courtesy of Raw & Cooked Media

Movie Review – Berlin Syndrome

Given Berlin’s dark history, there’s a rich metaphor hidden within the title of Cate Shortland’s tense, traumatic boy-meets-girl, boy-kidnaps-girl thriller.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Clare (Teresa Palmer), a young Australian photographer, is backpacking solo around Germany on a journey of soul-searching and self-discovery. A chance meeting with a handsome, charismatic local named Andi (Max Riemelt) leads to the pair spending the day together, then eventually a passionate one-night stand. Waking the next morning, Clare finds herself locked inside Andi’s apartment.  Believing this to be a simple mistake at first, she soon comes to the sinister realisation that she is Andi’s new prisoner.

From Misery to The Silence of the Lambs to Gone Baby Gone to many, many others – kidnapping and abduction is definitely nothing new in cinema. What makes Cate Shortland’s (Somersault) third feature Berlin Syndrome  so fresh is its unnervingly organic and genuine take on the subject. One of the biggest phobias associated with travel anxiety is given a painstakingly real treatment via a slow build of tension – the disoriented awe of being in an unfamiliar place, the exciting rush of a spontaneous encounter with a stranger, the “surely not” moment of disbelief, followed by the true horror of an irrational fear confirmed.

Shortland expertly guides us through these motions, subtly hiding double meanings in motifs and moments as an effectively eerie foreshadowing device of what’s to come. The captor/captive dynamic of the pair once Andi’s true intentions are revealed is where things become very interesting. Both Andi and Clare’s actions become highly unpredictable as each delves into the complicated emotions on either side of the coin.

Teresa Palmer, who’s been a long-time presence in both local films and big Hollywood blockbusters, has always been reliable, yet has never been given the chance to truly showcase her talents as an actress until now. Hearing her speak in her modest Aussie accent is a little offbeat at first, but it lends to a nuanced, naturalistic performance that feels like this could very well be a girl you know whisked away on her Euro trip. She makes a meal of the complexities of being prisoner to someone she thought she could trust, plus there’s something in her eyes that seems to suggest she’s hiding something throughout; she’s utterly mesmerising.

Likewise, Max Riemelt is a fascinating monster. He’s simultaneously charming and intimidating, his straight face never giving away the threatening things he has planned. In an inventive twist, we also see Andi’s normal life outside of the apartment; functioning beneath a mask as a teacher, but with his rage against women and fear of his double life’s exposure bubbling to the surface.

Though a tad repetitive and drawn out at times, Berlin Syndrome’s uncomfortable levels of tension and hypnotising leads keep it a compelling, almost-too-real watch. How it all wraps up is shattering and immensely satisfying.

Berlin Syndrome is available in Australian cinemas from April 20 

Image courtesy of EntertainmentOne Films