Monday, April 22, 2019

Review: BURNING

Boy meets girl and they get on and get it on. She goes off to Africa as she's already told him and comes back with a suave and handsome devil whom the boy likens to Gatsby. The boy feels like garbage and very had. But Gatsby takes to him and the three strike up an uneasy three way friendship. Girl goes missing. Boy eyes off Gatsby with good reason. That's almost the entire plot. It could fit with leg room in a commercial tv half hour. But that's not why we're here.

Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) has his own problems. His father's anger disorder has lended him in jail and Jong-su has to go and look after the cattle on the farm. That's just in time for him to meet the beautiful, young and volatile Hae-mi (Jun Jong-seo) spruiking outside a market stall. She recognises him from their country childhood and their mutual attraction burns through them through lunch and then a visit to her Gangnam apartment in Seoul. She flies off to Africa in search of answers to big existential questions while he looks after a cat in her apartment who seems to use the litter tray and eat its food without ever turning up. She comes back with Ben (Steven Yuen) on her arm .. Ok, I've already been through this.

But the thing is that while the lines for an intrigue are clear and the plot, when really needed, heats up to an expert level, we are not here for the plot as much as the title. Jong-su burns with ennui. He wants to be a writer but is finding it hard to get started. He burns with lust and then love for Hae-mi. He burns with envy at the lifestyle of the irritatingly serene self-possession of the well to do Ben. And he burns with rage at Ben's skills at enchanting Hae-mi with so little effort. And he burns at Ben's admission of arson as a hobby. And he burns with frustration at the crappy hand that the universe has dealt him before passing all the good cards on to every single other person alive.

The strength of this film is that he doesn't get to Brando this. If he does have a talent it's one of appearing aloof as all of the above sear his being's core from within. If circumstances have ever pressed you into a lip biting silence you will not sit easily through this film and you will not find its heavily extended running time a bore: you will be too busy feeling triggered. And the film will go on and on squeezing the damn thing. The sheer beauty of the lensing of the Korean often worrying music score aren't there to lull you into a nana nap. You have to do some burning of your own.

Yoo Ah-in compels us to watch him thread an emotional needle over and over again until he has the pieces of information to build a picture of a crime that he will not be able to tolerate like everything else. If we begin to understand that he will act we begin to worry at how forcibly he will (assuming the pressure breaks him at all). That's the strength of his performance. Jung Jong-seo's Hae-mi makes us fall for her along with Jong-su by playing the hazardous line between vivacious whimsy and crazy. Steven Yuen, plays completely against type (the heroic Glenn in Walking Dead) in his native Korean and needs us to doubt what we suspect by showing us some of the everyday persona he maintains to keep himself as sociable and successful as he is: is he too shallow to be real, is his smoothness really just what he is?

This is a character investigation rather than a thriller and will not be for anyone who likes their vengeance served cold and fast. If, on the other hand, you have ever liked how Kiyoshi Kurosawa handled his supernatural horror tales like kitchen sink realism or how Tarkovsky put the philosophy before the technology in Solaris to intensify the gut punch of its ending, this might well be for you. You might just like how not every feature film made today has to fall into genre lines and play nice. This is a big ask of a film but I'm glad it was made.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Review: THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE

Toby Grisoni is having a bad day. He's shooting a commercial in Spain along a Don Quixote theme but it's not going well. Spiky and contemptuous of everyone around him, he drags the gravity down in his director's chair with the realisation that his idea was wrong and the expensive shoot in Spain was wasteful hubris. That night he is reminded of a student film he made in the area, also with Don Quixote as a character, and plunges into a bout of intense nostalgia blended with guilt: he should have kept his integrity and developed his vision as a filmmaker. When he returns to the site of the earlier film he finds the town depressed and wounded from the experience and there, in a threadbare tourist attraction based on his student film, is the cobbler he cast as the Don who believes he is Don Quixote. Reality is about to get very slippery.

This film comes with a lot of baggage. A title card tells that this film was in some form of production for decades and is only now ready to be shown. Anyone who has seen the affecting documentary Lost in La Mancha will nod at the words. Terry Gilliam's attempts to realise his vision of Cervantes' epic met with repeated disasters of production, of financing, and then, at the eleventh hour of this release, of licencing. It's taken a struggle of the scale that Gilliam favours for all his films' moments of truth. The entire fabric of this film is woven with this history and its director's observations on the hazards of filmmaking and storytelling. This film is made not just by but of Terry Gilliam.

Toby's toxic narcissism signals his need for transformative redemption. We are given its vehicle early in the Xavier/Quixote character whose madness draws the younger man out of himself. But the journey is a long one and Toby's deliverance will be long and hard won. None of this will be a spoiler to anyone who understands the fable clearly signalled at the early scenes in this film. It is, in fact drawn and stated so clearly that we can easily relax and let the Gilliam wonders roll on.

Roll on they do and at first there's an unease to how uncontrolled some of the action is which can leave it feeling draggy and bloated. This is kept to the second act and the development of Toby's relation with whatever form of reality he encounters lightens and speeds up toward a very lively final act.

Don Quixote is a tale of deceptive appearances and the importance of a strong moral core to navigate the giants and enchanters of delusion. The Don seeks to return the chivalry he has read about to the age of venality and iron he lives in. The novel is a massive two volumes of incidents, related narratives and philosophy but it does keep to its arc. In the end it doesn't matter that the Don has seen windmills as giants or that he thinks his nag of a horse is a mighty charger his insistence on virtue in his earthy world is unshakeable. Jonathon Pryce plays the cobbler Xavier turned modern Don Quixote for all its worth in a richly drawn script. He effortlessly traverses the divide between staring madness and genuine wisdom and it is a joy to guess how close to the surface the old cobbler might be at any time, how the role feels so good it might as well be his real self. It is a masterful performance.

This film stands or falls on his interaction with Toby/Sancho. At the end of a string of near miss casting of this role that included Johnny Depp and Ewan McGregor Adam Driver is given the film's toughest gig. It's tough because it's thankless. Toby has to tag along and repeatedly dig himself and Don (as he calls him) out of scrapes maintaining a sarcastic narcissism that could turn us off him and kill the whole movie in a few lines. This comes close to happening more than once as Toby is pressed to make ethical decisions that might serve to illustrate his character or conveniently move the narrative. In such moments I found myself getting annoyed at him and wondered how the film was going to live with him in it for its sizeable run time.

Gilliam and his co-writer Tony Grisoni (yep, he almost put his name on his lead character) give Driver the all important flashbacks to his days as a hopeful and energetic student with ideas and convictions, even putting the younger and older Toby in the same scene. This lets us know that under the brittle contempt of his relations with other humans as a careerist commercial director there is a longing for this earlier version of himself and the possibility of reconnection with him. Driver chooses nuance to give this to us and is redeemed as a performer before his character faces his redemption. I wonder if many will recognise this when Pryce's bravura turn is so eclipsing.

And attention needs to be afforded to Joana Ribiero as Angelica who takes the agency given her by the screenplay to a high strength. From the ingenue of the flashbacks in the student film to the world weary possession the world has made her, leaving a smouldering anger that feels ready to take its turn. She is essential to the tale.

For a film with more than its share of directionless setpieces that do little but repeat the state of play The Man Who Killed Don Quixote comes through. Most poignantly, it serves as both a triumph of Gilliam's self-belief and a sobering message about the ravages of a committed creative life. There will be more than a little autobiography in the industry figures on screen and that weighs heavily. But then there is Gilliam at his most deft and fleet footed as he delivers scenes whose reality can turn on a single line.

His films have been hit and miss with me. Brazil and 12 Monkeys still wow me. Tideland depresses me. And there are those that leave me cold, often the ones done for money like The Brothers Grimm. Time Bandits has passionate fans but I'm not among them and Jabberwocky will only ever be Monty Python without the jokes. So, if I buy a ticket for a new Gilliam movie it's always with a qualified hope. Well, it pleases me to report that like The Fisher King or Munchausen, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is one of his most delightful.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

10th Anniversary Autumn Program




So, I was referring to some old blog entries and noticed that I hadn't for a long time done any of the lists I used to do about how I'd like to see some remakes done or simple top tens. This meant I had to come face to face with the timeline and realised that this blog and the film night it supported were begun ten years ago. In fact the month o' March is the anniversary.

So, I thought, instead of a nostalgic post, how about I think up screening seasons the way I used to. I'll think of themes for the sets of titles and even cobble a trailer together if time and materials permit. Here's the first one I did: https://pj-shadow.blogspot.com/2009/02/

It'll be like that. I don't have a venue and won't be doing any screenings the way I used to but I can make some recommendations and you can do the rest. We're almost out of the beginning of autumn (when the original one began) but I'll start with that and go until summer at the end of the year.

Autumn 2019: THE MAGIC REEL
Magical realism began as a literary term and covered Jorge Luis Borges and a number of South American novelists in his wake and thence to Europe (Gunther Grass, Patrick Susskind) and even our own shores (Peter Carey). To say cinema was slow to adopt this is to miss how magical realist it has been from the time of Melies films onward. There are films that took their cue from the literature and others that, by dint of their own intense individuality, stumble into it. Here are some for the most magical realist season: Autumn.


TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID (Issa Lopez Mexico 2017)
My favourite of the 2018 Melbourne International Film Festival this mix of grimness and airy whimsy can create a frantic fear one moment and a great warmth the next. A girl in Mexico City has her life disintegrated by gang violence and, left with nothing else, she must find and join the underworld of drug war orphans who are gathering in the city. Blood streams from corpses on the footpaths and slithers along walls and follows her into her house. An embossed dragon on a phone case takes life and flies through the darkness. And then there are the tigers of the title, sometimes figurative and legendary, sometimes all too real.

SPECIAL (Hal Haberman/Jeremy Passmore USA 2006)
This is a superhero origins story unlike any other. Les is a young parking officer who volunteers for a pharmaceutical experiment for his depression. It doesn't just ease his condition it gives him superpowers. He can go through walls and levitate. When other people see him demonstrate them, though, he's just running into walls or sitting in chairs. Two big pharma guys are after him for his signature on a non-disclosure about the failed drug trial but they increasingly take on the vibe of super villains. Les, alone, faces a world of crime that only he can meet. Coming across like something from the realm of the cult movie heyday of Repo Man or Love and Human Remains, Special wears its indy badge with pride and digs in despite the budget constraints to offer some real heart along with the action and the comedy.

SAUNA (Antti-Jussi Annila Finland 2008)
As an exhausted conflict ends in the 16th century two brothers travel to a remote region of Russia to map the new border. The intensely withdrawn inhabitants of the village they stop in do little to assuage their fears of potential fresh conflict. Oh and there's a strange building in the swamp that has no doors ... sometimes. This thickly atmospheric folk horror will feel like home to both fans of Tarkovsky and Clive Barker.

THE ENDLESS (Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead USA 2017)
Benson and Moorehead are emerging as the keepers of Lovecraftian mythology in independent cinema with outings like the fabulous Spring, the mumblecore weirdness of Resolution and now this setting in one of the creepiest cults you could imagine. Two brothers who escaped the cult as children are sent a tape encouraging them to return. The younger is eager for one last look. The elder is wary but agrees to go along with the condition that they stay for a day and leave again, this time for real. Nothing ever goes to plan.

TIMECRIMES (Nacho Vigalondo Spain 2007)
My favourite time travel story deals with the paradox of doubling head on as an alarming crime seen by chance through binoculars reveals ever more bizarre persectives once the witness begins his investigation. Only as long as it needs to be, this break neck sci-fi will leave you tracing the events backwards looking for the seam.




GOD TOLD ME TO (Larry Cohen USA 1977)
In honour of Larry Cohen who died this year is this strange piece from the seventies that won't sit still and accept a genre label, having liberal doses of police procedural, cultism, supernatural horror and some truly buzzy sci-fi. Cohen had a cosmic imagination and plied it on a shoestring budget. A series of murders is taking place in New York. The perpetrators are unconnected save for one detail: they all claim that God told them to do it.

MAN FACING SOUTHEAST (Eliseo Subiela Argentina 1986)
A new patient appears in a mental hospital without official admission. He claims to be from another planet. He warns anyone who will listen that earthlings are doomed if they continue to live so violently. His psychiatrist, who must listen, is surprised out of his own flattened morale to accept the newcomer's charm. Who, in the long run, will be treating whom? This '80s arthouse favourite form Argentina takes its time to build its world but does so with a lightness that never drags and suggests much beneath its currents. A quiet classic that begs a revisit down the line.

THE CABINET OF DR CALIGARI (Robert Weine Germany 1919)
Early horror cinema that didn't come from theatre looked only like itself. Nosferatu and Vampyr played by new rules, having more to do with fine art than books or the stage. This expressionist nightmare of the sleepwalker from a travelling sideshow plays out with a deadly dream logic made solid in its zigzag sets and misshapen city scapes. If you haven't seen it you need to. This is one of the originals.

If watching a silent film bothers you, know that its 67 minute running time shouldn't break the attention bank of the least legacy-tolerant.


PHANTASM (Don Coscarelli USA 1979)
Mike is noticing some strange stuff around town. His older brother Jody doesn't believe him but soon has to as he starts seeing them, too. Shadowy munchkins in the trees, a funeral director who lifts occupied coffins like rolls of carpet and severed fingers in foam cups that ... well, you'll see. One of the oddest sci-horror films ever takes an imaginative ride from a sense of the other into a deep well of WTF. Too adult for a kid's adventure but too kid-led to be quite grown up it would have been a nightmare to market and that's before you get to some very strange concepts and a great flair for necessity-driven invention. There's only one of these (I know there are sequels but even counting them).

THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE (Victor Erice Spain 1973)
Little Ana and her sister go to see Frankenstein when a travelling cinema show comes through their village. Ana is haunted by it, believing her sister who tells her the monster lives nearby. It is Spain as the civil war is drawing to a close and the bad guys are winning. Ana goes roaming and does find something. It's kind of like what she's expecting but every day is a new volume of information when you're that young and all sorts of lessons wait in the dark to take shape at sunrise. Victor Erice's haunting tale of childhood discovery uses stillness and solitude to create an increasingly compelling narrative of the emotional extremity of childhood with the spectre of the worst of adulthood whispering in the fascist symbols on the walls and in the distance.

BLISS (Ray Lawrence Australia 1985)
I was already a fan of Peter Carey's strange Australia which was openly a renewed colony. Bliss in the novel is set on the edge of the American empire. The film doesn't need to do that. All it needs to do is show an Australian family whose survival depends on advertising. The rest is toward or away from this reference point. This was the first film I went to at a cinema after I moved to Melbourne. Ray Lawrence, in the middle of his own career in advertising, brought Carey's absurdist fable to full rich car ad colour. It immediately stood out in Australian cinema for its strong characters and meaty performances to go with the strong vision. It also came into the cinemas with a reputation for having disgusted the audiences at Cannes into walkouts. I sat in a half full cinema at a mid morning screening and heard two women talking behind me as the production badges came up. "I hope it's not too revolting," one said. It took Lawrence decades to return to the cinema with the intense, brooding Lantana. Until then, this carried his name as the director of one of the strongest Australian films ever made.

BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (Spike Jonze USA 1999)
This might seem a mainstream choice but it's a way of celebrating a great year in cinema where mainstream and arthouse briefly became indistinguishable. Spike Jonze's bizarre fantasy moves with an increasing clip stuffing our heads with concepts that are hard to cope with but served up with delicious sauce.





Some of these are a lot easier to find than others. Few, if any, are likely to appear on the video on demand services but the hunt can be fun. Enjoy!

Friday, March 29, 2019

Review: US

In a prologue set in 1986 young Adelaide wanders from her inattentive father's care at the Santa Cruz fun park, makes her way down to the nocturnal beach and enters a hall of mirrors. There she finds her double who smiles as though to prove she is not a reflection. Adelaide is so traumatised that she loses her power of speech and begins years of therapy.

A title sequence moves back from a rabbit in a cage to show a wall of them is what looks like a classroom as an unsettling choral piece that mixes modal melodies with dissonance and electronic percussion.

In the present, the adult Adelaide is driving with her young family to their holiday home Santa Cruz. The family loads in for the holiday, they bicker at the dinner table but settle in to their vacation. Adelaide keeps noticing coincidental moments happening around them and feels increasingly off. And then their son comes in to tell them there's a family standing in the driveway. Going down to look they see a group of four, a mother and a father and a daughter and her brother. Apart from their strange red uniforms they seem the exact doubles of Adelaide's family.

There is too much to spoil beyond that point but I can say that the second act is a deftly controlled quilt of Adelaide's childhood memories and the weird home/life/identity invasion story that cracks and bangs like a string of penny bungers. And while it gets busy with the middle act struggle new themes emerge which at first feel like enrichment but are all foreshadows. Which is to say that the machine is a little more evident in this serious horror piece than you might expect. We are being informed as clearly as we were with the same team's Get Out that this horror of the Other across the divide (of stratification, privilege, culture and knowledge) wants you to reconsider the title itself as one character says: "We are Americans."

Jordan Peele has gone even further than his debut in approaching the horror movie as sociology lecture. But when it's delivered with such style and compulsion I'm not going to complain and call it preachy. While the denouement takes longer than it has to and starts dragging it does bear a payoff that seals the queasiness of the ideas of the film and sets in to haunt you after the credits have finished rolling.

If your thang is spotting cultural references you'll have a library of them in these frames. There is a Kubrickian sense of un-submersible units with the prologue and each act having its own distinct pallet (which makes things easy when the memory/current action montages really get swinging) and the cast led by the powerful Lupita Nyong'o is solid. I cannot fault the score that takes its job seriously and blends well with sourced music.

I was sold on the premise and the pedigree. I'm a lifelong horror nerd and appreciate any genre piece that gets down to work as hard as this does. If there's anything I wince at in a horror film it's moments where pact is broken with a situational laugh here or a flatly routine approach to what constitutes a scare (a trailer at my screening for the new James Wan guff was almost all jumps). Instead of sudden jolts or an over reliance on convention Us goes for our mental satisfaction, planting seeds of distaste and self-recognition there which we cultivate whether we want to or not. If this is what Jordan Peel can do then I can't think of anyone I'd rather at the helm of a ressurected Twilight Zone. Submitted for your approval....


PS. There are some massive plot holes in this film. I didn't mention this as it's an allegory rather than a realistic drama and I tend not to care too much about plot holes anyway. I understand why some people can't get past them I just tend not to share the concern.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Review: STAN AND OLLIE

Biopics are handicapped. Everyone knows their subjects and will pat them on the head indulgently as they recall the great moments without having to do much as movies. The exceptions use the lives they depict to get us thinking about our own. Amadeus doesn't match up to the timeline but it's really a story about genius getting attacked by mediocrity. Love and Mercy takes that further by adding an aggressive external influence to exploit low self esteem and further still by jolting its audience between a past that looks like the past and a present that feels ugly and confronting. Stan and Ollie begins with a shot that takes our minds off our expectation that the actors will or should exactly resemble their historical characters: we see the famous comedy duo from behind, chatting in makeup chairs. We're not even invited into the conversation but we do get a good idea of how the pair relate to each other.

And then we're into it, a present day (meaning the 1950s) story of the two reconciled after ears of estrangement with saliently placed scenes from the cause of the rift. In the '50s, Laurel and Hardy are touring Britain with a live show towards the promise of a new movie. The venues are small and underfilled and the sense that they are treading on territory forbidden them by the passing years is strong. The idea of the movie spurs them as they develop Stan's routines. Meanwhile, we follow the timeline of Hardy's betrayal of Laurel for the sake of job security which brought the partnership to an end. A begrudging agreement to start publicity stunts wins them new audiences and their fortunes reverse. Their wives join them on tour and the success balloons. But old resentments and the charge of ageing are going to want their own hour upon the stage.

See, already that's more than a series of great moments in history. This is largely due to the story starting after the years of inspiration and rise. No one snaps their fingers and says, "that's it," with a shock cut to the fully realised bit. These artists work on their routines as they would have, here a tweak there a tweak with the writer Laurel receiving light but knowing reward from Hardy's laughter. For the benefit of the uninitiated (like me) their interaction quotes a trove of gags and the writers remember to make sure they are funny. On that generational divide in one scene Stan tries breaking the indifference of a receptionist with some great bits which only puzzle her.

But this is less the story of Laurel and Hardy than of two longtime colleagues who harbour gripes and still need to cope with them while their livelihood and friendship are at stake. So much of this is polished through performance and the onscreen chemistry of Steve Coogan as Laurel and John C. Reilly. Coogan runs against type by acting a character rather than fitting one to his public persona and his Stan Laurel keeps a strained control over his growing anger. John C. Reilly is a dependable character actor and fills Hardy out with a quiet pathos that can vanish beneath a roar of worldly laughter. The pair's spouses have also been well written and steal their scenes. Shirley Henderson lets show the strength that gets her through a loving but difficult marriage as Lucille Hardy and Nina Arianda allows her sincerity to peep through a hilarious brashness.

The sole complaint I have about the film is something that serves as a hobby horse for me and probably won't be noticed by most who see this film: the score. Given that the writing, tight direction and masterclass performances keep the frequently threatening sentimentality well at bay the orchestral score which has a an old TV movie heavy handedness too often breaks through and tinkles and noodles around like a fan who doesn't quite know what to do on finding their hero, so makes a lot of goofy appreciative sounds and hangs around too long. Less would have definitely have been more. It really cheapens things.

That one thing aside, this is a film of entertainers and shows up ready to entertain. It's also a film about ageing and feeling out of step with time, about friendship, marriage and their inconvenient demands so it puts those things in the way they appear in life, sharp, burning, hard and, now and then, sometimes, in moments of relaxation or abandon, purely joyous. The best thing I can say about this biopic is that it doesn't have to be a biopic.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Review: BORDER

Tina has the jutting forehead and forward mouth of an early humanoid. We see this in the film's second shot. It's not a spoiler to reveal that she later attributes this to chromosomes. She works as a border inspector, using her heightened sense of smell to pick out the kind of border crossers who are walking in fear or nervous states. Her accuracy is impeccable. One such she catches leads to her involvement in a police investigation.

One day a man with her peculiar looks passes through. He has no perceptible smell. The two regard each other with powerful and confusing emotion. His unsettling confidence returning, he tells her where to look for him and passes on. Tina tries to resume normal life sharing house in an uneasily platonic life with a young dog breeder called Roland but is too haunted and seeks the man, Vore, finding him at a local hostel. After an encounter which draws her into his normality she relaxes into relief and invites him to stay in the small bungalow at her place.

There is far too much to spoil if I described more of the plot. Vore and Tina's increasing intimacy changes everything she was confident of in her world. Having learned to keep her place at the level of a sniffer dog, enduring the audible insults of the normals who pass by her intimidating gaze at the border she learns extraordinary things about herself from Vore.

Up to this point the film deftly challenges us to feel more than we wanted to for Tina. A few scenes later we are asking ourselves questions about our own acceptance of difference to degrees we would be too automatically guarded if the story involved the more recognisable spectre of intra-human racism. It's not just Tina who's getting a few life lessons. The expertly handled blend of magical realism and Nordic grit help us here. Tina and Vore look like Neanderthals but they are considered ugly rather than impossible. It's clever but it's also unfailingly warm. So, it works.

And then it gets dark. And then it gets darker. Unrelieved by sentimentality but rather leavened by the commitment of anyone who makes it to the third act, Border is a triumph of sustained credulity, a kind of prolonged dare to call it impossible and it is issued without a moment's collapse into cuteness or the dilution of comic relief. My cinematic year has begun.

NEXT OF KIN: Going Home Again

I bought my first copy of Cinema Papers because it had this image on the cover. Wow, an Australian horror movie that looks like a European one! That's for me. Also for me was the opportunity to read an industry magazine that made this film undergrad look and feel important. The story was thorough though a thinly veiled promo for the upcoming release. Except it wasn't a release. I waited months, looking for the title among the lists at both mainstream chains and arthouses around Brisbane to no avail. The cinematographer was touted as one of the nation's finest and costar John Jarrat was if not a household name more recognisable than most. This was in the early '80s, the era of The Thing and Alien, genre was news. But nothing. I went back up to the parental seat in Townsville where I found it on VHS. Straight to video was soon to be the judgement phrase to mean genre crud for pizza and beer nights. So, I rented it and watched. It was ok.

So, what's it about? Ok. Young Linda returns to her mother's country mansion as part of her inheritance. It's also an old people's home. She gets along with the staff and guests alike and even picks up a young and hot John Jarrat as a boyfriend. An ongoing narration of her mother's diary seems to reveal a kind of evil presence in the house. Some of the guests die. Eventually it ends with a big finish. I returned it the same day and moved on.

Recently, the film has resurfaced on Blu-Ray and I thought I might as well try it again. Maybe it fared badly in 4X3. Maybe the mono mix of Klaus Schulze's electronic score would bloom in multi-channel. Maybe I expected a more generic horror movie and forgot to see the subtleties of an energetic young team who wanted to form their own atmospheric genre.

Well, it's not bad but you have to ignore any of the hints you get in the first ten minutes that you are about to see a horror film. Jacki Kerrin is not a scream queen nor a Ripley, she's relaxed to the point of sedation. Often it feels like she's acting intentionally under the key of the writing to avoid cliche. There's no lack of intelligence in her demeanour just a lack of fear. John Jarratt perks her up a tad as his own presence is dependable. The cast of old eccentrics do their work and the third act does the heavy lifting on a movie that contains almost none of the horror it starts with. There is almost no tension in this film. But that might be the game.

A scene that in today's money would warrant a double jump scare is played out without alarm but plenty of aesthetic detail (e.g. a sudden uplit face). The figure of the girl with the bouncing ball only appears to guide the living to discoveries but none of them are remarkable. The deaths could easily be due to old age. Are the creepy doctor and administrator in cahoots? Find out. The sex scene happens with the lights out (really, all the lights are out; you see a back, kind of). And so on.

So it plays against genre, then. We'll it's so listless that it's hard to tell. If you take it as anti-gothic what does it offer in place of payoffs? Playing more like documentary style but in a creepy house would have to wait until the noughties and the post-Blair Witch trend. And there are those few moments in the closing scenes which are straight out of contemporary horror cinema (no spoilers here, though the reveals are so irrelevant it's hard to spoil them). Is that a satire? It doesn't feel like it.

In the end Next of Kin works best as a curio, a horror movie without scares or suspense but big colourful style in the era of low-key realism in Australian cinema. You could put it on to enter a new world where the bizarre rates little mention but looks like a million bucks. For me it was a little like going back to Townsville in summer by train and finding my parents not only alive but the age they were when I was young (but I would be the age I am now). So, maybe Thomas Wolfe was right about going home again. You can do it but you can't but if you do there are films like this to tell you why.