Friday, December 1st, 7pm
What starts out looking like it might be a throwback to the eco-horror flicks of the 70s (Frogs, Prophecy, Long Weekend) becomes a twist on the famous Aussie folklore of the jolly swagman, as three intrepid university researchers – the more experienced Pria (Dafna Kronental), her friendly rival Ben (Matthew Cooper), and eager Will (Sam Delich) – spend a couple of nights deep in remote marshland in an endeavour to save a threatened ecosystem. Almost immediately there is the threat of arrogant local hunters, and the distant sound of duelling banjos fills the air, but there is something much more terrifying lurking in the long reeds, and soon enough our three hapless biologists are desperately trying to avoid becoming jumbuck tucker.
Writer/director Roger Scott’s background is as a lighting technician, and this has guaranteed that his debut feature looks sensational, with excellent work from cinematographer Govanni Lorusso. Scott tackles the slasher horror tropes with gusto, injecting a Jeepers Creepers-esque menace, and toying with the audience’s perception of what is real and what is imagined. The performances are solid, with Kronental holding fort, and the "monster" of the movie kept effectively in the periphery. There are some genuinely horrifying moments, and the ending is suitably nightmarish. You won’t want to be a-Waltzing Mathilda any time soon after this visit to the wetlands.
Friday, December 1st, 9pm
A German/Canadian co-production, and second feature for Norbert Keil, co-writing with Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil), this is a ravishing study of identity and longevity, a kind of internal apocalypse of the soul, looking and feeling like a cross between early David Cronenberg and Nicolas Winding Refn’s recent Neon Demon. It’s a sumptuously shot and staged science fiction thriller, with strong elements of body-horror.
Young and beautiful Kira (Rebecca Forsythe) goes home with a man to his small, but plush NYC apartment. But he soon vanishes, and it seems the pad has become hers. Along with a newly acquired flaky dry skin condition on her finger, which soon, and alarmingly, spreads to her body. She visits Dr. Crober (Barbara Crampton), a dubious dermatologist, for treatment, but finds little relief. Instead she discovers a more satisfying solution, which proves to be especially horrific for others. Her new friend, Sophia (Lucy Aron), just might have some of the more important answers that are itching like ivy under Kira’s soft, flawless complexion, or maybe the nightmare is just beginning?
Ravishing in its design and complex in ideas, if perhaps a little convoluted, Replace rides on the performance of charismatic Forsythe who does a more-than-competent job. Genre cult favourite Crampton, sporting icy cool contacts, only has a few scenes, but provides the movie with further gravitas. The twist ending reveals both a poignancy and desperation, whilst trainspotters might prick their ears on nods to John Carpenter.
Saturday, December 2nd, 5pm
A Brazilian nightmare that burns like the coals from hell, Mal Nosso (as it's known in Portuguese) tells the tenebrous tale of Arthur (Ademir Estevez), a man plagued by guilt and hounded by his own spiritual power (through flashbacks), who is forced into extreme measures to save his kin, the soul of his teenage daughter, Michele (Luara Pepita), from the clutches of a terrible demon, by enlisting the aid of a sociopathic hired killer, Charles (Ricardo Casella), whom in the movie’s early scenes indulges in some truly horrific set-pieces.
It’s a pitch-black fable that smoulders on serious slow burn, but ultimately rewards those with patience, though it’s not a long film, just held in check by a very low-budget. Still, the performances are strong, and the atmosphere, whilst thin, fills with the tone of real horror darkness. Despite the barebones production values, there are some impressive practical effects, and the look and presence of the demonic entity is worth the price of admission; This isn’t everyone’s cup of poisoned Holy Water, a truly original hybrid of phantastical elements within the confines of a domestic drama, think Under the Shadow with a glint of Martyrs.
Sunday, December 3rd, 5pm
Elton (Nicholas Wilder) is a deeply troubled man. He is preoccupied with the loss of his four-year-old sister Ayla, who died mysteriously many years earlier. His partner, Alex (Sarah Schoofs) and his brother James (D’Angelo Midili) are concerned for his mental wellbeing. His mother, Susan (Dee Wallace), seemingly humours his obsession, but ultimately, she too is worried. Especially when Elton turns up with a mute, wild-eyed adult woman (Tristan Risk), whom Elton insists is his long-lost sister. The bond he shares with the woman/Ayla feels as real as the blisters that have formed on his wrist. But when you stare into the dark abyss, the abyss stares back into you.
My favourite movie of this year’s festival, Ayla is writer/director Elias (Ganster)’s second feature, and despite its inherent low budget, it’s a very accomplished psychological horror, a provocative study of grief and mental illness, with a stunning central performance from Wilder, and effectively understated work from Risk. The limitations of the budget mean this is not a special effects movie, but more a potent and atmospheric mood piece, lingering with melancholy. The ending is a deeply curious and elusive muse on the dangerous control of the unhinged mind, probing creepily with the tangled psychic roots of the supernatural. Truly eerie and fascinating is Ayla.
A Night Of Horror & Fantastic Planet International Film Festival screens at Dendy Cinemas Newtown, Thursday, November 29th – Sunday December 3rd. For full program and tickets click here.