Cut Snake (2015): Smoldering Sullivan Stapleton (Review)

Sullivan Stapleton and Alex Russell

Set in 1970s Australia, Cut Snake features a smoldering Stapleton Sullivan who moves through most of the film like a big jungle cat. He visits his old mate Sparra Farrell (Alex Russell) and finds him engaged to Paula (Jessica De Gouw).

Directed by Tony Ayres, from a screenplay by (Blake Ayshford),  Cut Snake puts the audience on tender hooks almost from the first frame. Pommie (Sullivan) travels from Sidney to Melbourne to see his pal, Sparra.  Once he arrives,  Pommie wastes no time integrating into  Sparra and Paula’s life. 

As the fim progresses the audience learn more about Sparra and Pommie. Pommie is all testosterone fueled aggression and  he seems full of cheerful menace. Sparra is adamant that he has gone straight. Pommie sets about tearing down his friend’s new life after prison.

Ayres gives the audience a brilliant bit of misdirection. The first part of Cut Snake is full of Sparra’s unease at Pommie’s emergence from prison.  Both men increase the tension level with their “back and forth” and it seems that initially Pommie is interested in Paula.

The film then shifts direction and it is revealed that Pommie is not interested in Sparra’s fiancée at all.

Cut Snake is a nerve wracking film to watch. Even after Pommie’s true motivations are revealed, the tensions do not abate  one iota. The vast majority of the film is spent waiting for that other shoe to drop.

Midway through it does and it lands heavily.

At its core, Cut Snake is a romance film set against a thriller background.  All the actors really deliver and delved deep to find their characters’ inner truth.  The unease felt every single time that Stapleton appears on screen, never goes away.

The desperation felt by Sparra, who frantically tries to go straight, is equally present in Pommie. The violence prone hard man is pure frustrated  rage topped by a crushing longing for something that, he learns eventually, he cannot have.

Ayres puts the film together brilliantly. The scenario is compelling and nigh on impossible to stop watching. Sullivan looms large in every single scene he is in.  He emits a presence so intense it is difficult to imagine sharing screen time with the actor.

The music screams the ’70s, from Linsey de Paul to David Essex singing the eternally catchy tune Rock On,  it all brings 1974 Sydney to living breathing life.  The clothes look perfect and everything from the sets to the cars is spot on.

Sparra’s carefully laid plans crumble to pieces as Pommie refuses to leave. He drags his old cellmate down back into a life Sparra swore to leave behind.

Sullivan, who is currently wowing the world on Blindspot makes Pommie bigger than life. The former convict is all muscle and attitude in his quest for what he desires. By the end of the film viewers who are not familiar with Sullivan’s work will realize he has Goliath sized chops.

Alex Russell holds his own in this intense story of love, betrayal and criminal activities down under. De Gouw does not shirk her acting duties either and all three really deliver in this  Aussie thriller.

Cut Snake is streaming on Hulu  and is definitely worth watching.  This is 5 star entertainment. The film, almost two hours long, never drags and is impossible to stop watching.  Check out the trailer below:

The Pack (2015): Wild Dogs Down Under (Review)

The Pack screen shot.

The Pack is an ensemble horror film that features a family of four trying to survive a pack of wild dogs intent upon killing and eating them.  This offering from the land down under may be slow paced but it piles on the suspense and provides just enough gore to be effective.

The film was helmed by Nick Robertson (his first effort as director) and written by Evan Randall Green and stars a couple of “Home and Away” alumni – Jack Campbell and Anna Lise Phillips. Campbell and Phillips play the parents, Adam and Carla. Newcomers Hamish Phillips and Katie Moore play brother and sister Henry and Sophie. 

The Wilson family are going through tough times. Sophie wants to leave the country and is rebelling against both parents. Adam and Carla are one step away from losing their sheep farm after scores of the animals have been viciously slaughtered.

A loan officer from the bank stops by to threaten foreclosure and offers the couple an insulting sum of money to buy the property. If the Wilson’s refuse they will have 48 hours to move out and will lose everything. Adam turns the bank official down and throws him off the property.

Meanwhile the wild dogs, having run out of sheep are on the prowl for something new to eat.

The Pack does rely a bit on stereotypes to sell the film.  The rebellious teen, the stubborn farmer, the supportive wife and the financially struggling farm. While the characters are a bit two dimensional it does not hurt the film as they all become something different when the animals attack.

In terms of violence, the attacks by the dogs are impressive. While there is not a lot of blood splashed about the ferocity of the animals is quite frightening. The feral creatures head straight for the throat with speed and focus. One feels that in real life the victim would be dead in a moment.

The house used for filming is beautiful as is the surrounding scenery. Nickerson has shot a film that, when it is not cranking the tension up, looks gorgeous and terrible. The nighttime scenes thrust the viewer back into childhood and that fear of what we cannot see clearly.

Perhaps the only note of complaint would be the animals themselves. Each one looks identical to the other and they also resemble those black collies used in sheep herding.  Of course the veterinarian of the film Carla,  does mention interbreeding so that may account for it plot wise. In all likelihood though it is most likely because of budgetary constraints.

The Pack moves at a leisurely pace. At an hour and a half, 90 minutes, it should feel too long but it does not.  The action is not all frantic retaliation for the attacks but a combination of stealth and ingenuity as the family fight back.

As most of the attacks take place after dark the lighting has been set up to keep from losing anything in the gloomy surroundings.  This is especially impressive considering that the dogs are black.

This is straight forward horror. There is no sting in the tail ending with an O.Henry twist. The audience get what they came for with this one, a scary suspenseful film that despite the slower pace moves along very well.

It would be interesting to see this film set in America. As Australia has stricter gun laws the farmer has one rifle with only a few rounds of ammunition to fight off the pack of feral dogs. In the USA the same chap would probably have an arsenal in his house and the film would have been very different.

The Pack is a solid 4 stars for working brilliantly despite its reportedly  low budget.  It is streaming on Netflix at the moment and is well worth a look…or two.

Backtrack (2015): Sixth Sense in the Outback (Review)

Adrien Brody in Backtrack

Backtrack is a splendid combination of horror and mystery. Set in Australia it deals with death, memories and how some things refuse to be forgotten. In some ways it could be seen as  The Sixth Sense in the outback. There are, however, many other films that contribute to this intriguing story and at least one book. (It had overtures of The Survivor by  the late James Herbert.) At least one sound effect came from Takashi Shimizu‘s The Grudge and it scared just as effectively  in this  film as the one  it originated in. 

Written and directed by Michael Petroni (The Rite, Queen of the Damned) Backtrack is first and foremost a mystery.  Starring Adrien BrodySam Neill and Robin McLeavy the film slips the horror in where it fits. Sometimes resulting in a good old “jump scare” and other times leaving the viewer disturbed and not a little creeped out. 

Before singing Brody’s praises (he does a marvelously understated Aussie accent that is spot on) let us look at McLeavy.  This actress is no stranger to the horror genre. Her second feature length film was the brilliantly brutal and quirky The Loved Ones (2009). She was also in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (which really is rather schlocky compared to this offering) and while she “plays it straight” here she does her usual excellent job of selling her role.

McLeavy plays the local “PC Plod” who Brody’s character confesses to in the film.   Robin is completely believable as the rather serious cop who has little patience for what she sees as messing about.

Brody’s character is a psychologist who has had more than his fair share of tragedy.  His daughter is struck by a truck and killed while they are out together. Before that though, some of  his past is so awful that he has “mis-remembered” it.

A young girl shows up in his office and the mute child silently asks for his help.  This triggers events that begin to veer into the supernatural, or even paranormal, and Peter Bower (Adrien) is determined to get to the bottom of this issue.

Brody is so convincing with his subdued Aussie accent that if one had never seen him in anything else they would assume he came from the land down under.  The Oscar winning actor shows just why he won that little gold man in this film.  His suffering and fear are apparent but never over the top. The actor is just brilliantly spot on whatever the emotion.

Sam Neill plays a psychiatrist who is treating Peter and once again this Irish actor performs his magic on screen. Neill and Brody interact beautifully together and it helps to move the story on very well.

In terms of story to avoid spoilers the plot  cannot be described in too much detail. There is a daughter’s death,  a 20 year old train wreck and childhood secrets that have been forgotten over time. These secrets manifest themselves in many ways and ultimately it seems that they have been altered with time.

Director Petroni moves things along at an almost leisurely pace but never quite eases up on the tension. There are no false scares here.  Petroni wants us uneasy and slightly afraid in varying degrees.  Once the first reveal is made things pick up nicely and the horrible secret of Peter’s childhood does appear.

Once the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, one can look back on the film and with a little help from Petroni it becomes clear that all has been signposted from frame one.

Backtrack is a 5 star film.  It may be slowly paced but the scares work well and the childhood revisit is both horrifying and tragic.  Airing on Netflix at the moment, this is a great find. Check it out and see what you think.

The Suicide Theory (2015): Australian Karmic Gold

Steven Ray and Percival bonding over Terminator Salvation game

Directed by Dru Brown (helming his second feature length film) and written by Michael J. Kospiah The Suicide Theory is pure Australian “karmic” gold.  After a 2014 festival run, the film was released in 2015 (in the USA).  The film is set in Australia and starts in a convenience store. 

A man complains to the proprietor about his pregnant wife as another customer enters and interrupts the two men. The first customer tells off the newcomer who responds sarcastically and leaves. Outside the shop, as the disgruntled customer walks away, the man with the pregnant wife, beats the sarcastic customer to death.

Steve Mouzakis is Steven Ray. A violent man who works as a professional hitman. Steven is the man in the shop who beats the other customer to death. Leon Cain is Percival, a gay artist who has repeatedly tried to take his own life and failed. He hires Steven Ray to kill him, but with the proviso that Steven wait till Percival does not want to die. Otherwise, he tells the hitman, it will not work.

The two men meet in a train and after the artist pays Steven a huge amount of money, the killer pumps three rounds into Percival’s chest at point blank range.

Percival survives.

The Suicide Theory is Australian cinema at its finest.  The cast, the storyline and the character arcs of each main player are just brilliantly done. Mouzakis is an odd cross between Steve Buscemi and Tim Curry. A perfect fit for the tortured and violent man whose first memory is of his own father throwing him through a glass coffee table.

Steven is an epileptic whose wife dies when a car careens through a crosswalk and hits the woman as the couple leave the opera. The hitman develops a phobia about crossing the street and each time he tries, Steven collapses in a fit.

Ray and Percival interact repeatedly as the hitman attempts to fulfill his contract on the painter. As they continue to meet and talk through the reasons that Percival wants to die the men begin to bond.

Dru Brown’s offering is a film of many colours. In parts black comedy, film noir, drama, buddy film,  thriller and social commentary The Suicide Theory proves that a movie can be far fetched and still work splendidly.

There have been charges that the film is contrived, and certainly this is the case.  As is the fact that Percival could have surely been killed by some other means than those employed by himself and Steven Ray (such as decapitation for example) but despite these obvious “shortfalls” the film works.

This can be seen as a cautionary type tale where one’s actions (that prompt epic and long reaching karmic repercussions) result in one’s own fate.  Scenes in the film are striking and memorable.

Steven Ray, wearing his dead wife’s opera “outfit” of a little black number and wearing her lipstick, listens to opera on a scratchy old-fashioned vinyl album.

Later, wearing the same outfit, he puts a gun to his chin to kill himself when a bullet crashes through his window barely missing him. Looking out to the street, he sees a policeman in a gun battle with a thug, who is about to kill the cop. Steven kills the armed thug and the camera pans over to his standing in the road, a hero dressed in a black slinky dress and wearing “lippy.”

The movie was filmed digitally; with the Red Scarlet X for high definition, and despite this deviation from celluloid, looks brilliant. There is an issue of lighting in a couple of scenes but this does not detract from the film.

Mouzakis gives a brilliant performance as the odd-ball hitman who grieves for his dead wife. Leon Cain gives a wonderful slant to his tortured artist with a guilty secret that drives him to repeatedly attempt suicide. These two are an excellent odd couple who end up intriguing the viewer.

At 98 minutes the film moves well, never lagging and compels the audience to keep watching. Oddly entertaining and completely absorbing, this one has Hollywood remake written all over it. If tinseltown do re-imagine this film, Steve Buscemi as Steven Ray would be casting perfection.

A 5 out of 5 star film that show why Australian cinema is one of my top favorites in the world of film making. Streaming on US Netflix at the moment watch this and learn why cinematic offerings from the land down under can be much more than Mad Max and horror films.

Infini (2015): The Thing Meets the Data Stream

Whit Carmichael aka Daniel MacPherson
Directed and co-written by Shane Abbess (written with Brian Cachia) and starring Daniel MacPhersonLuke HemsworthLuke Ford and Bren Foster (who has been garnering a lot of attention as SCPO Wolf Taylor on the US TNT drama The Last Ship) Infini is an Australian treat posing as an odd sort of horror/science fiction/thriller. Set in a future where the vast majority of the world is poor and forced to take dangerous high paying jobs to survive, the film follows an elite search and rescue team on a special mission.

The film opens by informing the audience that methods of space travel have advanced to such a degree that people travel as “data” via the Slipstream. Volunteers, aka poor people in those dangerous jobs, have devices (an APEX) attached to their central nervous system that allows them to use this mode of travel. We are also told that corruption of data is commonplace, as are deaths caused by this controversial method of space travel.

Infini starts with a group of people being questioned under bright lights and behind glass walls. The tone is frantic, loud, aggressive and panicky, the importance of this opening sequence will become relevant, and clearer, at the end of the film. The next thing on screen is Whit Carmichael and his pregnant wife. This is Carmichael’s first day in his new job. His wife is concerned and worried about this new high paying but dangerous position.

Before his first mission, things go catastrophically wrong. A group of soldiers go on a mission and return, their numbers are decimated and the survivor’s are bloody, in shock, and very volatile. The station is put on lockdown and put under lethal quarantine. Whit is slipstreamed to the place the soldiers came from and a new team are sent to retrieve him.

There are a lot of things going on here. Time is very relevant. The rules of the film are that the person using the data travel system is gone for seconds on the station, while on the actual mission their time at the destination equals hours. This factor becomes important as the film progresses.

Infini seems to combine John Carpenter’s The Thing (or Howard Hawk’s version The Thing from Another World, sans James Arness dressed as a giant carrot.) although Carpenter’s setting; the frozen arctic, does seem to be mimicked here. The planet the “perfect” organism calls home is a deep freeze where the natural habitat is icy and uninhabitable.

Abbess and Cachia have come up with a scenario that delivers some pretty decent horror and science fiction thrills that also requires the viewer to think. By the end of the film one does not know if the whole thing was a result of corrupted data, a perfect parasitic organism, space madness or something else entirely.

Performances by all the actors were spot on. Rather interestingly, most of the cast appear to be refugees from the Aussie soap <a href="; target="_blank"Home and Away. The film clips along at a good pace and while there are moments that jar, mainly because of the plot and the storyline rather than bad editing or holes, these incidents help to keep the unease and uncertainty on line.

If there is any complaint at all about the film it would be the rather wordy and philosophic speech given by the main protagonist toward the very end of the film. It does not really fit the scenario, although, that could be matter of misinterpretation, if one considers the data corruption plot thread.

When the film ends, the viewer will be uncertain as to just what happened to the crew who went to rescue Carmichael and Whit himself. This ambiguous end is the frosting on this outer and inner space trippy vision and makes the film work on many different levels. It is precisely the reason that I adore Australian cinema, as the filmmakers down under specialize in thinking so far outside the box that it may as well not exist.

Infini will not be to everyone’s taste. For those who like a film that makes them think and ponder about what they’ve just seen, this is a 4 out of 5 star bit of brilliance. Streaming on US Netflix right now horror and science fiction fans should pop some corn and prepare to be entertained and perhaps just a bit confused.

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