Flick takes place in the British penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land, which is now Tasmania, during the 19th century. An Irish couple, Clare (Aisling Franciosi) and Aiden (Michael Sheasby) are serving sentence there, along with their infant child and awaiting release. Clare has captured the eye of ambitious British Officer Hawkins (Sam Clafin) who is postponing her release and one night takes horrible advantage of her. This sets off a confrontation with Aiden, in front of a superior office, that causes Hawkins professional harm. In a fit of rage, Hawkins and his men rape Clare, again and kill her husband and child. As Hawkins travels to an outpost in search of securing promotion, Clare sets off in pursuit for revenge across wild lands with only native Aboriginal guide, Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) as company.
Australian period piece is written and directed with a very heavy hand by The Babadook’s Jennifer Kent. We understand going in this is not an action film, or Charles Bronson-esque revenge flick, but even so, the pace is dreadfully slow and the film simply about a half hour too long. The messages about the treatment of women and the terrible treatment of native Aboriginal peoples are well intended, but just because you have something important to say, doesn’t mean the audience should be bludgeoned with these messages for over two hours. Did we really have to endure Clare being brutally raped twice? We got the point the first time. The rape and murder of an Aboriginal tribeswoman also seems gratuitous, as by that point we understand that Hawkins and his thugs (Damon Herriman and Harry Greenwood) are horrible people and the black Aboriginals are treated awfully by the British and white locals. We get these messages clearly early on, but Kent keeps hammering away to make sure. It’s a well made film and the cast, especially leads Franciosi, Clafin and Ganambarr, give strong performances, but it’s also a tedious, heavy handed and meandering movie, even if well intended.
FROM FINAL GIRLS TO FILMMAKERS: HOW ROGER CORMAN HELPED GIVE WOMEN A VOICE IN HORROR!
(Just click on the movie titles to go to our full length reviews!)
Catching up with some Corman produced 80s horror, I came to realize just how ahead of his time legendary producer Roger Corman was in giving women a voice in horror as filmmakers and not just final girls!…
Roger Corman is legendary for his exploitation flicks and while some may debate the involvement of women in those films as objects of T&A elements and/or final girls in his horror flicks, they may not be aware that Corman was also boundary breaking in giving women opportunities as filmmakers behind the camera, which, especially in the horror genre and at the time…the 80s…was practically unheard of.
Today women have been showing their voice in the horror genre behind the cameras more than ever. With the starkly original works of the Soska Sisters and their American Mary or See No Evil 2, taking the horror world by storm…along with filmmakers like Jennifer (The Babadook) Kent and Leigh (Honeymoon) Janiak…that voice is louder than ever. The boundaries are starting to come down finally in a very male dominated genre and it’s a blessing to horror movie fans to be getting the works and perspectives of a whole new generation of female filmmakers, previously unheard from…but as these talents tear down the walls, is it possible there were already cracks there from an earlier time?
Three decades before this refreshing opening of doors, those doors were unlocked partially by a man that some may unfairly claim made his money exploiting women in movies, Roger Corman. During the 80s, women were just starting to make waves as filmmakers, let alone in the horror genre and Roger Corman not only produced numerous horror flicks with women writing and/or directing, but gave start to the careers of some renown producers too, like Gale Anne Hurd and his own wife, Julie Corman as well!
Corman, under his New World Pictures banner, produced Humanoids From The Deep with Barabara Peeters at the helm in 1981 and a year later gave the directing reigns to Amy Holden Jones on the slasher Slumber Party Massacre, which was also written by Rita Mae Brown. While the 1983 Suburbia, was not a horror flick, Corman gave new filmmaker Penelope (Wayne’s World) Spheeris a chance, producing her unflinching vision of a group of outcast punk rockers. It is now considered a cult classic and she a very successful filmmaker. After selling New World and starting Concorde Pictures, this trend continued. Sorority House Massacre was written and directed by Carol Frank and between 1987 and 1990 there were second and third installments of the Slumber Party Massacre series, helmed by Deborah Brock and Sally Mattison respectively. Corman even gave one of his regular actresses a chance behind the camera. Kat Shea (Barbarian Queen) co-wrote and directed Stripped To Kill for Corman in 1987 after starring in a few of his productions and doing some second unit work and writing for the legendary producer. She made a few more films for Concorde and Corman afterwards, including the immensely underrated vampire romance Dance Of The Damned in 1987. Shea…then Shea-Rubin…went on to a prolific career as a writer/director after striking out on her own. I personally find her to be a highly underrated filmmaker, whose most well-know film is probably the sexy thriller Poison Ivy with Drew Barrymore.
Corman was not the only one shaking the boundaries that are now finally coming down. John Carpenter stood by the late Debra Hill as his producer and she produced a number of his most classic films with him, including the horror masterpiece Halloween and that was only the beginning for this now legendary producer. Kathryn Bigelow burst on the scene with the vampire classic Near Dark in 1987 as did Mary Lambert in 1989 with the Stephen King adaptation, Pet Semetery. Rachel Talalay killed Freddy Krueger in Freddy’s Dead in 1991 and if not for the vision of Mary Harron, we wouldn’t have the modern classic American Psycho, which also showed us what a relatively unknown Christian Bale could do in front of the camera. Corman was not solely responsible, but certainly led the way during the 80s giving women a voice in horror behind the camera as well as in front of it…long before today’s generation of female horror filmmakers are making their presence known.
So, we are finally getting to see women make a strong mark as filmmakers in the horror genre. Their emergence was a long time coming, but there were pioneers that paved the way. While Roger Corman was not the only producer to give female filmmakers a chance on the creative end of the horror genre…and there were a handful of female directed horrors before the 80s, too…he did do it at a time where it was practically unheard of and he did it often. Do today’s filmmakers like Jen and Sylvia Soska have Roger Corman to thank for putting cracks in the barriers that they are now tearing down with their unique and talented visions as women in horror?…I’ll let you decide that for yourselves!
(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)
The Babadook is an Australian horror film that has garnered quite a reputation online and I finally had a chance to catch up with it and am happy to report it not only lives up to it’s hype but, joins Oculus and The Town That Dreaded Sundown 2014 as one of the best horrors I have seen this year.
This very unsettling story, written and directed, by Jennifer Kent tells the chilling tale of Amelia (Essie Davis), a widow and single mother still traumatized by the death of her husband over 6 years ago. Making things harder on Amelia is that her son Sam (Noah Wiseman) has grown into a very strange and emotionally erratic young boy who is not only difficult at times, but, sometimes reminds the lonely woman a little too much of her husband. As her husband died in a car accident driving Amelia to the hospital to deliver Sam, the boy’s birthday brings back painful memories every year and his 7th birthday fast approaches. But, to complicate things even further, Sam begins to obsess over a scary children’s book called Mister Babadook and is insistent that the book’s supernatural fiend is after them. Stressed to the limits, Amelia begins to see the thing too. Is the emotionally strained woman loosing her mind… or are they actually being stalked by something not of this world that wishes both of them great harm?
Even without the supernatural element… if indeed there really is one… this would be a very spooky and disturbing movie. Kent skillfully paints a portrait of a woman on the edge from not only the emotional loss of her spouse, but, the increasingly difficult behavior of the only thing she has left to remind her of him, their son. And being reminded of him is not always a good thing and sometimes Amelia becomes resentful of Sam. The complicated emotions of dealing with a child whose birth is a constant reminder of a loved one’s death and who’s affections are sometimes misinterpreted and rejected by a woman who has been alone too long, are handled very effectively and I give Kent credit for tackling some of these sensitive issues head-on. Then we get the added element of the title creature, whose existence is constantly in question. Are they being stalked by a supernatural horror or is Amelia concocting a fiction villain on which to project her growing resentment and frustration with Sam. Jennifer Kent is not in a hurry to tell you and it makes the film all the more frightening as Amelia starts to unravel and becomes more aggressive towards her son and the appearances of The Babadook become more frequent and intense and yet, we are not sure what is real and what is imagined. Is she possessed by a supernatural fiend, or has she equated her son with the loss of her husband to the point of wishing the boy harm. Well… you’ll need to see the movie to find out but, it is an intriguing and sometimes downright scary journey either way, whether The Babadook is a real entity, or a figment of Amelia’s fragmenting emotional state. And Jennifer Kent takes us along for a very bone-chilling ride that builds steadily, suspense-fully and strongly to it’s nail-biting last act. On top of all this, Kent has a very gothic visual style brought to vibrant life by Radek Ladczuk’s cinematography and there is an atmospheric score from Jed Kurzel to add to the already strong atmosphere that Jennifer Kent maintains throughout the film.
As for it’s minimal cast, the effectiveness of this fright flick is enhanced further as Kent also gets a tour de force performance out of star Essie Davis. Davis is simply riveting as a woman who loves her child very much but, is being exhausted not only by his increasingly difficult behavior but, by the constant reminder that he is of the loss of the man she loved. She is downright frightening at times as she becomes increasingly unraveled and aggressive towards her son and whether it be supernatural influence or simply a woman loosing control, she is a powerhouse. Young Noah Wiseman is equally effective as Sam. This is an instance where a child character is supposed to be annoying, to illustrate how much his mother has to deal with by herself and being the only bread winner in the house, too. It is difficult to watch Wiseman’s Sam at times so, we understand how tough it is for his single mom to handle this emotionally challenged… and sometimes downright creepy… little boy. The young actor nails it but, also surprises us, too as when Sam comes to face and deal with a mother who may mean him harm when she comes under, what may or may not be, the Babadook’s influence. The supporting cast are all effective as well, but, it’s Davis and Wiseman’s show as the way.
I really enjoyed this flick, it was intense, faced down some very sensitive emotional issues, was downright scary at times and all within the framework of a film that was both supernatural horror and psychological thriller. Jennifer Kent keeps us guessing as to whether this is a scary tale of a malevolent entity or an equally frightening tale of a mother unraveling to the point of wanting to endanger her own child. I certainly won’t tell you which it is, but, I will say, that either way, you will be properly disturbed and chilled by the time the credits roll.