Thank you to Senior Aussie Correspondent Cory Metcalf for co-hosting our salute to Australian horror (and forgive our stupid jokes about Vegamite and Men at Work)! In the last decade his native land has become a powerhouse in the genre, boasting inspired, wicked, twisted efforts that range from unsettlingly authentic to weirdly, darkly comical. Here are our favorites.
5. Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2014)
It is hard to do something fresh and interesting with a zombie film, but director Kiah Roache-Turner has done it. Writing with brother Tristan, Roache-Turner takes pieces and parts of the basic zombie myth as it’s evolved over countless films, shows, comics and video games, and woven it together with an audaciously Aussie sensibility.
Barry (Jay Gallagher) gets a call in the middle of the night from his artist/badass sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey). The zombies are here.
Barry ends up on the road with an assortment of survivors and begins the search for his sister, who’s having one hell of an adventure on her own.
Like the best in the business, Roache-Turner follows Romero’s lead when it comes to trusting the government. Zombies are more principled. But Wyrmwood mixes interesting new ideas with some of the stronger genre tropes to create a novel, often funny, action-packed film that gets creepy as hell.
4. Snowtown (The Snowtown Murders) (2011)
John Bunting tortured and killed eleven people during his spree in South Australia in the Nineties. We only watch it happen once on film, but that’s more than enough.
Director Justin Kurzel seems less interested in the lurid details of Bunting’s brutal violence than he is in the complicated and alarming nature of complicity. Ironically, this less-is-more approach may be why the movie leaves you so shaken.
An unflinching examination of a predator swimming among prey, Snowtown succeeds where many true crime films fail because of its understatement, its casual observational style, and its unsettling authenticity. More than anything, though, the film excels due to one astounding performance.
Daniel Henshall (also in Babadook) cuts an unimpressive figure on screen – a round faced, smiling schlub. But he brings Bunting an amiability and confrontational fearlessness that provides insight into what draws people to a sadistic madman.
3. Wolf Creek (2005)
There have long been filmmakers whose ultimate goal is not to entertain an audience; the idea being that art is meant to affect, not entertain. These filmmakers, from Sam Peckinpah to Lars von Trier, generally develop impenetrable indie credibility and a line of devoted, bawling fans. No one in recent memory has applied this ideology to horror cinema as effectively as writer/director Greg McLean with his Outback opus Wolf Creek.
Some of the best scares in film have come as the reaction to urbanites’ fear of losing our tentative grasp on our own link in the food chain once we find ourselves in the middle of nowhere. With Wolf Creek, it’s as if McLean looked at American filmmakers’ preoccupation with backwoods thrillers and scoffed, in his best Mick Dundee, “That’s not the middle of nowhere. This is the middle of nowhere.”
Using only digital cameras to enhance an ultra-naturalistic style, McLean follows happy backpackers who find themselves immobile outside Wolf Creek National Park when their car stops running. As luck would have it, friendly bushman Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) drives up offering a tow back to his camp, where he promises to fix the vehicle.
A horror film this realistic is not only hard to watch, but a bit hard to justify. What makes an audience interested in observing human suffering so meticulously recreated? This is where, like a true artist, McLean finally succeeds. What is as unsettling as the film itself is that its content is somehow satisfying.
2. The Loved Ones (2009)
Writer/director/Tasmanian Sean Byrne upends high school clichés and deftly maneuvers between angsty, gritty drama and neon colored, glittery carnage in a story that borrows from other horror flicks but absolutely tells its own story.
Brent (Xavier Samuel) is dealing with guilt and tragedy in his own way, and his girlfriend Holly tries to be patient with him. Oblivious to all this, Lola (a gloriously wrong-minded Robin McLeavy) asks Brent to the end of school dance. He politely declines, which proves to be probably a poor decision.
Byrne quietly crafts an atmosphere of loss and depression in and around the school without painting the troubles cleanly. This slow reveal pulls the tale together and elevates it above a simple work of outrageous violence.
Inside Lola’s house, the mood is decidedly different. Here, we’re privy to the weirdest, darkest image of a spoiled princess and her daddy. The daddy/daughter bonding over power tool related tasks is – well – I’m not sure touching is the right word for it.
The Loved Ones is a cleverly written, unique piece of filmmaking that benefits from McLeavy’s inspired performance as much as it does its filmmaker’s sly handling of subject matter.
1. The Babadook (2014)
Like a fairy tale or nursery rhyme, simplicity and a child’s logic can be all you need for terror.
You’re exhausted – just bone-deep tired – and for the umpteenth night in a row your son refuses to sleep. He’s terrified, inconsolable. You check under the bed, you check in the closet, you read a book together – no luck. You let him choose the next book to read, and he hands you a pop-up you don’t recognize: The Babadook. Pretty soon, your son isn’t the only one afraid of what’s in the shadows.
It’s a simple premise, and writer/director Jennifer Kent spins her tale with straightforward efficiency. There is no need for cheap theatrics, camera tricks or convoluted backstories, because Kent is drilling down into something deeply, frighteningly human.
Kent’s film is expertly written and beautifully acted, boasting unnerving performances from not only a stellar lead in Essie Davis, but also the alarmingly spot-on young Noah Wiseman. Davis’s lovely, loving Amelia is so recognizably wearied by her only child’s erratic, sometimes violent behavior that you cannot help but pity her, and sometimes fear for her, and other times fear her.
Listen to the whole conversation on the Fright Club Podcast.