Saturday, October 1, 2011

Australian horror double feature

Now that's a blog title I never thought I'd write, but what would this blogging thing be without the occasional surprise, right? By entirely random chance, I ended up watching two horror movies from down under in the same day. What are the odds, right? Well, one of them have been on my backburner for quite a while, while the other one just sounded like a rollicking good time, well, for me, at least partially terrifying to most folks, but enough about that.

I honestly didn't think Australia makes much horror. Of the top of my head, I could only remember Wolf Creek, in all it's fucked-up-terrifyingness and Undead, the cult film that unfortunately never got around to culting. Further research, read: wikipedia, reveals that the island of a thousand and one poisonous things also gave us Queen of The Damned, that one Cthulhu film that didn't have all that much to do with Cthulhu and The Howling III: The Marsupials, a movie I now must watch, if nothing else for the sheer masterfulness of the trainwreck that movie probably is. So, the track record's a bit... uneven, to say the least, but let's just see if these movies nudge the average up a bit.

First up, we have Lake Mungo. Even as a person who attaches no stigma to the label, perhaps the opposite, I feel ambivalent about calling this movie a horror movie. On one hand, it's about ghosts and the afterlife, shot in documentary-vision, a bit like A Haunting In Connecticut would be if it wasn't... insufficient and not thought-through. enough, but on the other hand, it seems to be more of a character thing, how our main characters react to what may or may not be a ghost, I'd call it soft sci-fi if the movie actually shot for some sort of a scientific explanation for this whole ghost thing.

The story follows a family after the death of their daughter. Their tribulations get compounded when it seems they may be haunted by the ghost of their daughter. Scare-wise, it's very effective, using slow build and a refreshing lack of pomp and circumstance, not to mention pretty awesome atmosphere building. Also, it's a bit of a mindbender in that the actual ghostly presence isn't thoroughly explained, see the "may" in my ultra-short synopsis. Sure, at the end, there's some substantial evidence some sort of nebulous shit went down, but the focus isn't on a confrontation with the supernatural, but rather the family coping with the untimely death. Despite what sounds like a heartwarming family-centric remake of "Ghost," though, I maintain the scary bits are pretty damn scary, especially since they're so low-key as to slip in past ones guard. Oh, and an American remake is in the work, pretty much no way they can screw this one up, nosir.

The second one is The Tunnel. This was a movie I only heard about recently. Released this spring, it's fairly unique, in that they offer the entire thing free on bittorrent. Yup, you heard me, they're basically giving this thing away, financing the movie through crowdsourcing and, another strange idea, selling individual frames in the movie. It's a bit of an indie wet dream really, reasoning that if people really likes the product, they will donate, be it for owning a tiny part of the movie, or just supporting the makers. It's an idea I really like, and if it continues to produce movies like this, I'm a happy camper.

So, for those in doubt, I liked The Tunnel. If I were to be extremely laconic, I could call it "Rec Mark 2." Yes, it's another Found Footage-film with a professional cameraman thrown into the mix, as a camera team decide to investigate the tunnels below Sydney, following rumors of homeless people disappearing and a controversial water plant plan that the government just suddenly abandoned. Of course, being hard-hitting journalists, they go in without informing the authorities, and surprise surprise, there's something down there that's none too friendly.

This one suffers from some of the same problems as [REC], in that the start is very slow, but unlike [REC], I feel the start is used a bit more constructively, building up the characters, an important step, I may remind you, in the process of building up a character and then breaking them down that a lot of movies that aim to do the latter forget. Once things goes down, though, the scares starts slowly building up, all the while giving out the occasional hint, and little more just what the hell is after our heroes, and in the end, we're not much closer to exactly what this thing is, and I, for one, think it works pretty well that way. Sure, it could be viewed as a low-budget trick, probably because it, on some level, is, but it's used really well, and the means used to conceal the full visage of the Whatever-The-Hell-It-Was never seem forced. Sure, they seem frustrating as hell, the times we're placed dangerously close to the thing,  but luckily, most of these moments hectic as all hell, so it's not a problem one reflects over much, except possibly in retrospective. It also helps that the beastie displays intelligence and predatory sadism, without really showing any of that pesky comprehensibility that in my opinion bogged down [REC]2's zombies. It's fast, it's ugly, it wants to eat frighteningly specific parts of you, and it's hunting. Outstanding.
At this point in the movie, only the three pictured characters are alive. 
Astute observers will notice the night vision camera is still being operated by someone.

The movie is pretty damn tense, much in thanks to the nearly entirely dark tunnels, hand-held cameras and  the aforementioned superfast hunter thing. The film uses darkness very effectively, although you may not like this experience if prolonged bouts of nightvision bothers you. The characterization is above average, but it's mostly used as a tool to progress the story, with a handful of instances of characterization for characterization's sake, which isn't bad for a movie this type. Acting's decent for a movie as small as this, and although it probably won't win any big awards, didn't put me out of the situation, which is always a good thing.

All in all, The Tunnel may be a serious contender for my favorite Found Footage Film, although I think I'll need to see how it holds up upon rewatching before I can make a final verdict. That said, it's refreshing to see a found footage film with proper denouement. Without spoiling anything,  the ending also contains a somewhat surprising emotional point. It's not mind melting or anything, but it's a nice perspective from a subgenre that 9 out of 10 times end with the cameraman being killed and/or dragged off. Regardless, you can't beat the price, so I highly recommend checking it out.

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