A Saltwater Croc is Pure EVIL in “Black Water” reviewed! (Umbrella Entertainment / Blu-ray)



On a two week holiday, Grace, her husband Adam, and her younger sister Lee, embark on a road trip through Northern Australia, stopping at the local bars and roadside attractions all along the way.  Their next ad hoc destination is to fish at the rurally located and rinkadink river tour and fishing guide, Backwater Barry’s.  With Barry himself already out with another tour group, his assistant happily agrees to take them fishing out on a small, metal Jon boat along the mangrove tree dense distributaries.  When their boat is flipped by a large, aggressive crocodile and their guide dead, the water-protruding trees become a lifeline for temporary safety, but being fully encircled by murky water leaves them with no escape route and hidden from the river mainstem where help would like cross.  With a hungry croc lurking below, the only means of survivor is to reach the flipped Jon boat that’s stuck stranded in the middle of water. 

Aside from my personal favorite subgenre, Sharksploitation, the next best would the reptiliansploitation!  If there is even such a scaly subgenre about cold-blooded killers, especially involving the waterproofed skin of alligators and crocodiles lurking and wriggling in murky waters.  I’m a child of the 80’s and grew up on such classics as “Eaten Alive” (technically the late 70’s), “Alligator” and “Alligator 2, and the Australian ozploitation thriller, “Dark Age.”  Even the more modern reptilian ravagers, “Lake Placid” series and Alexandra Aja’s “Crawl,” are hugely exciting, entertaining, and come with a lot of bite!  Another ozploitation crocodile themed film came across my viewing pleasure just recently is the Andrew Traucki and David Nerlich co-written, co-directed “Black Water.”  The 2007 independent production is filmed across multiple locations in the Northern Territories and New South Wales of Australia where much of the butt-clenching terror is filmed in the crocodile-less mangroves of the Georges River.  “Black Water” is presented by The Australian Film Commission and Territorial Film Developments and developed by Michael Robertson’s ProdigyMovies who cater to low-budget ozploitation genre pictures that usually pit man versus nature to the death!

The concise cast provides “Black Water” with an intimacy you wouldn’t get with a bigger, cast-saturated production.  Three principles and two supporters imbues the characters’ fears, tensions, and their rush of adrenaline into the viewers without having to dilute into offshoots with an extensive list of throwaway and expendable roles.  Diana Glenn, Maeve Dermody, and Andy Rodoreda turn from touting tourist to terrorized tenderloins for one of nature’s most ruthless hunters. The dynamic between the three is one that is high on the relationship status; a family consisting of a wife and husband and sisters, leaving zero room for apathy between the characters themselves and between the viewers and the characters as their importance of loss is greater to each other and that extends beyond the screen.  Traucki and Nerlich give little-to-no wiggle room for escape, forcing the survivors to wade the ominous waters.  The fear is prevalent more so in the eyes of Grace (Glenn) who is not only worried about her husband and sister, but also her motherly instinct to protect her newly learned pregnancy.  Lee (Dermody) and Adam (Andy) lack that hesitation, that trembling moment of dipping their toes back into water, in a seemingly inability to feign being affected by the force of flesh-ripping nature lurking just below the surface.  Even with subsequent failed survival attempts, I found difficulty relating to Lee’s fear who, in the latter half of the story, calmly breaststrokes approx. ten yards to reach the boat in a moderate attempt at heart-racing desperation.  Fiona Press (“Out of the Shadows”) and Ben Oxenbould (“Caught Inside”) round out the cast.

“Black Water” is the epitome of ingenuity when placing actors and crocodiles in the same space together.  Real people, real crocodiles.  Yes, the visual effects produced by Nerlich, Traucki, and their team, including of compositor Peter Jeffs, create a frightening cohabitation, stretching the limits of the VFX with the instinctual movements of in captivity crocodiles and laying them over the mangrove scenes that have the actors.  Whenever the croc pops up from the water with just his snout, eyes, and the few ridges of his back breaking the surface, the motionless stare from the beady Devil-eyes can make you hold your breath.  “Black Water” has killer anticipation with a death roll component that no one is safe from a maneater’s hunger. At some instances, the composites are not entirely seamless with the depth or the angles as which the croc moves through the water, but the overall effect is successful and potent. With limited escapes routes come limited plot devices. “Black Water’s” length felt almost painfully reliant on time spent in the mangrove trees with the characters mulling and weighing the options, the option to go for the boat became it’s own motif, and a short lull quickly stiffens the initial boat-flipping tumult. One second, the four fishers have lines in the water and the next second they’re in the water, “crocodile in the water” is being screamed at the very top of Adam’s lungs, and tour guide Jim has instantly disappeared from story in a blink of a crocodile’s snapping smile. No amount of backwater expertise assisted in Jim’s, or any of the patrons’, survival. After the commotion has subdued and the realization that a crocodile has come to feed, survivors stick the trees like monkeys a mere 7 to 10 feet from the surface water, stagnant still in shock and unable to muster a thought about what to do. After the lull, man versus nature gets right back outwitting one another with the croc having a big screening advantage.

Holidaying never looked so terrifying where a day in the office seems like an escape in “Black Water.” The story is a cautionary one of the increasing populations of both humans and crocodiles in Northern Australia and was based off true events as noted by director Andrew Traucki off the account of two teenagers stuck in a tree after the death of their friends by a croc in an interview with MovieWeb.com. A reemergence of the 2007 film, stemmed by the recent sequel, finds itself on a full HD, 1080p Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment. The Australian label’s region B release presents the 89 minute feature in a widescreen 1.85:1. More than most of the picture is shot in natural light without being too heavily under the guise of lens manipulation with the steady cam under “Primal’s” John Biggins cinematography. The composited recordings crocs and locations blend almost seamlessly, only rendering a smidge of smear glossiness around the croc’s edges in the tinted blue nighttime scenes. Whenever the croc pops up in the water with a human character sharing the scene, the frame unveils evident cropping but only to sell the effect of the two being in the same moment, removing the outer edges to avoid potential gaffes. The English language and ambiance audio tracks offer two options, a 5.1 and a 2.0, both congenially in a DTS-HD master audio mix. For this particular review, the 5.1 was explored and the dialogue, ambience, depth, range, and run of the mill soundtrack do sound clear, without a hinderance of muddles dialogue, and pertinent to the circumstances happing on screen. Special features include an audio commentary with the directors, a mixture of polished and rough deleted scenes, a making of segment that includes interviews with the directors, actors, and producer Michael Robertson about locations, special effects challenges, and the characters who sell the story, and the theatrical trailer. There’s no pretense with “Black Water” in it doesn’t hawk mutant crocodiles or a behemoth beast thought lost over time; instead, “Black Water” feasts on realism, capturing plausibility and instinctual fear that makes us never want to go into knee high water ever again.

“Black Water” is now available from Umbrella Entertainment on Blu-ray!

To EVIL, Just Another Slab of Meat for the Butchering. “The Slaughterhouse Killer” reviewed! (Breaking Glass Pictures / Digital Screener)



The local swine slaughterhouse perfectly suits the solitude of Box, barely sating the fervent urge of his killer spirit, but when a young ex-con, Nathan, who is trying to walk the straighten arrow with his girlfriend, falls under Box’s wing at work, keeping that urge at bay is proving more difficult with a likeminded companion.  When the workplace bully pushes Nathan too far, Box orchestrates a killer opportunity to murder the bully in his own home as a gift to the young parolee.  The death of their intimidating colleague solidifies an unique relationship between the men, opening Pandora’s box in their small town where no one is safe from their lust for blood.  As the bodies pile up and their corpses are ground up into chuck at the slaughterhouse, their relationship is tested when a child becomes the unintended next victim, severing the unspoken principles of their bond. 

“The Slaughterhouse Killer” is director Sam Curtain’s entry into the minds of bloodlust wolves living in sheepskin day-to-day amongst the clueless flock.  The senseless violence-laden thriller out of Tasmania, Australia is the sophomore feature from the “Blood Hunt” writer-director and is co-written with Benjamin Clarke.  The pair harness their continued onslaught for aggression from “Blood Hunt’s” human race cruelty with a rumbling storm brewing, waiting, for the right conditions when two very different people find a common interest by setting a little part of their world on fire.  The indie picture is streamlined through Curtain’s Stud Ranch Films entertainment banner and is backed by Black Mandala, a big and upcoming label showcasing an expertise in extreme low-cost horror, under the producer’s eye of Nicholas Onetti who has supported a number of genre fan favorites under his banner such as “The Barn,” “Aquaslash” and has even collaborated with brother, Luciano, on the 70’s giallo inspired  “Abrakadabra” and “Francesca.”  If Onetti is attached, prepare yourself for merciless and bloody circumstances in this particular ozploitation maniac thriller. 

You obviously can’t shoot a film titled “The Slaughterhouse Killer” without the slaughterhouse setting garnished with meathook strung up and process gutted livestock much in the same way the killer can’t fall into the average-looking joe category.  In steps Craig Ingham, a Sydney born 6’4” big fella with distinct facial features that includes a gleaming bald head and an angry sneer delineating fiercely from his bulbous, pink-as-a-pig cheeked face.  Ingham has an uncompromising maniacal approach of being large and in charge under a lame façade of a daft abattoir employee.  To balance out the oversized archetype antagonist, usually from one that lumbers around in slashers genre circles, hacking away at sex-crazed teens, James Mason buoys “The Slaughterhouse Killer” from capsizing in that humdrum trope of tasteless, flat water by adding a pretty face to the madness that is equally as ugly on the inside in character in what becomes the Laurel and Hardy of exploitation horror.  However, there’s nothing remotely funny about the performances of two men becoming unlikely best buds, drinking beer, and making hamburger out of the sheila from next door, but they do act like a pair of chuckleheads searching for motivation with their roles and instead come up empty handed in the arbitrary of Curtain and Clarke’s headway halting story.   “The Slaughterhouse Killer” is simply a two man show that aims to cycle through their unusual connection with Kristen Condon (“Sheborg”) as Nathan’s girlfriend, Tracey, and Dean Kirkright (“Cult Girls”) as the unfortunate workplace bully rounding out the small cast of collateral damage characters.

One of the biggest problems with “The Slaughterhouse Killer,” a tale that’s supposed to be driven by the characters’ dysfunctional ties to society and their knack for violence, is that very lack of purpose Box and Nathan get out from the random bloodlust.  Nathan, on parole for we don’t know what, easily falls bewitched by Box’s gore giddiness and willingness to let Nathan into his little big secret.  Without Nathan’s incarcerated backstory, a sentence served that proved nothing but his ability to still land a job, doesn’t age well as the film progresses and just seems to be there in a glint of development substance that never circles back.  Box falls onto the same static line of where the hell is his arc heading as the film opens with Box resting sweaty in his whitey-tighty inside his ramshackled shack.  There’s not much too Box’s creepy disposition other than keeping his squinty eyes glued to a rather attractive woman’s behind and taking abusive orders from the abattoir boss, but what he sees in his new guy to take him on a journey of bloodletting is something of a mystery that never pans out.  Even Box’s bound and blinded plaything in a padlock trunk transcends every act met, creating a glass ceiling of knowledge to the inner workings of his warped thinker.  Box and Nathan’s nihilism and madness unleashed is the purest part of Curtain’s film as the sensation is like a fat kid in a candy store where the two men can just go to town by butchering the residents of their own town by any means seen fit to them, but in the grand scheme of cinema, there are far superior violent films to consider.

As if it was destined to be, “The Slaughterhouse Killer” finds friendship with a kindred, malignant soul to carry out dark fantasies and Breaking Glass Pictures brings us this tale of two treacherous serial killers onto VOD and DVD this month of April. Digital platforms will include Vudu, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Fandango, and more. Presented in a widescreen, 1.78:1 aspect ration, and recorded in 4K, cinematographer Leuke Marriott rejoins Curtain on the director’s second feature, providing 78 minutes worth of intimate imagery invasive on Box’s grimy lifestyle and Nathan’s furrowed brow by corralling much of the action directly in front of the camera. Marriott might not employ novel angles and techniques but makes up with holding tight and fast on the brutality and the meatgrinder of Box and Nathan’s vile run while also supplying a few bold filters, such as a rich blue and a light yellow, in more unsettlingly taut moments and capturing some of Tasmania’s landscape with aerial drone shots of Arthur’s Lake with the trees seemingly floating up out of the tenebrous water. “The Slaughterhouse Killer” has the title of a 80’s printed VHS SOV and leverages the ogre villain to the max, but can’t muster a rooted sense of purpose, not even a simple reason such as pure, unadulterated evil, to drive a span of violent behavior to be a worthwhile token to the viewer.

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In a Remote Australian Town, EVIL Can Hear You Scream. “The Dustwalker” reviewed! (Umbrella Entertainment / DVD)

A quaint, outback town become the epicenter of a mysterious, otherworldly contagion that infects lifeforms to become mindless carriers, targeting loved ones for senseless, uncontrollable violence.  In her last days as sheriff of the town she grew up in before moving to the big city, Jolene must piece together the puzzle of last night’s mysterious meteor that crashed on the outskirts of town having an correlating connection between the town’s sudden communications blackout and the unknown epidemic that has physically and mentally transformed the townsfolk into a vicious, violent horde.   Jolene bands together the remaining survivors when the town is overrun by the zombie-like residents and tries to organize an escape, but a large dust storm walls them in not letting them flee to safety, while a large subterranean creature burrows through the dusty landscape intent on searching for the infected.

Sandra Sciberras’ “The Dustwalker” brings big universe problems to small town Australia as an alien tainted corruption courses violence through the veins of secluded outback locals with a humungous extraterrestrial on a raging prowl.  Shot in the shire of Cue, Western Australia, Sciberras’ written-and-directed Sci-Fi terror cataclysm of zombies and monstrous creature showcases some of Cue’s unique historical and architectural buildings and natural landscapes landmarked around the microscopic population of a few hundred people of the dust bowl region, creating a isolating apprehension of endless nothingness when hell breaks loose on Earth.  “The Dustwalker” is the first thrilling genre film outside the drama and comedy context for the director, creating new challenges for the seasoned director to incorporate monsters and mayhem into the fold, while also serving as co-producer, alongside Megan Wynn and Grace Luminato, in this female steered production under Sciberras and Luminato’s Three Feet of Film banner and financed by a conglomerate of Head Gear Films, Kreo Films, Metrol Technology, and SunJive Studios.

With a strong female contingent behind the camera, there is also one in front of the camera beginning with Jolene Anderson (“Prey”) as longstanding Sheriff Joanna Sharp who’s ready to leave her hometown in the dust, but before disembarking on her new big city adventure, the municipal officer has a showdown with a plague not of this Earth.  Anderson is sided by “The Hunger Games’” Stef Dawson and “Wolf Creek’s” Cassandra Magrath, playing the roles of little sister, Samantha, and the local geologist, Angela, respectively.  Aside from the sheriff rounding up an uninfected posse to arm and fight their neighbors plagued by an insidious infection, Samantha and Angela rarely contribute to the cause with their subtle character terms.  Samantha cowers mostly behind her big sister’s shield and gun, never adding substance to the sibling dynamic, sidelining Dawson’s confident performance.  Subjecting Samantha’s young son, Joanna’s nephew, into harm’s way would have affably weaved an obligatory edge-of-the-seat motivation toward family tension and desperation into the story that’s very honed in on a small town framework.   On the opposite side, Angela runs wild around town and is continuously depended upon by the story to be the scientific expert, though displays very little scientific knowledge, who discovers the crash site crater in solid rock and is willing risktaker with experimenting driving into the dust storm wall.  Despite her character’s poor introduction and setup who literally appears out of nowhere, Magrath’s outlier enthusiasm forces her character more into the narrative than otherwise innately.   The poorly written Samantha and Angela character are completely overshadowed by Joanna’s second in command, and the town’s only other cop, Luke, played with a righteously thin long mustache and scruffy mullet on Richard Davies.  Davies entrenches a consistency that’s present throughout “The Dustwalker’s” fluid scenario as the causal, yet dedicated, man of the law that compliment’s Anderson’s butt out the door Sheriff who has to stick around a few hours more to see the disturbance come to a head.  A miscellany of townsfolk partition side stories for the sheriff to investigate, involving a portion of the film’s remaining cast with Talina Naviede, Harry Greenwood, Ben Mortley, Ryan Allen, and Oscar Harris.

I have a very big problem with Sciberra’s “The Dustwalker.”  A problem that is approx. 16 years the film’s senior and has invaded a portion in my brain that is already occupied, trying to evict the current and rightful tenant that has paid, in full, dues of being the blend of sci-fi and horror I want domiciling my mental vacancy.  “The Dustwalker” follows nearly an identical story path as the 2003, Michael and Peter Spierig film, “Undead,” that follows a small Australian town under siege by a meteorite brought plague that turns residents into flesh eating zombies with something more obscure transpiring around them.  Sounds familiar, right?  If not, scroll up to the top and re-read the synopsis for “The Dustwalker” once again.  Now, I won’t slip spoilers into this review to explain exactly how “Undead” and “The Dustwalker” are undoubtedly two peas from the same pod, but minor tweaks here and there issue obvious differences in names, places, and villainous traits, but the rudimentary bone structure mirrors strongly “Undead” so conspicuously that “The Dustwalker,” after some contemplative comparisons, leaves a sour taste.  As for the film itself, the first 20 minutes of “The Dustwalker’s” first act compellingly sets up caught off guard characters being mixed into an unknown and threatening situation that is well-crafted with bread crumb clues provided to the characters as well as the audience, but the second acts staggers through principle character awareness with a stillness in their too-little-too-late reactions from being completely ignorant of the facts that something terribly wrong is happening and this leads into the unfolding of the third act which divulges the “Undead” echo.  The mindless local horde have a malformed screech producing from an abnormal elongated jaw, are speedier than Speedy Gonzales, and jump higher than a professional basketball player, but their purpose for at first targeted then randomized violence has an unclear schematic other than being driven by the ooze from the space. Correlation between the substance controlling the townsfolk and the oversized camel cricket with a scorpion tail and can breath fire fails to materialize purpose, especially when great dust walls, expanding as far as the eye can see, are formed to keep things nicely contained that provides one certainty – there is an alien intelligence at work here.

From out of this world and into your living room, Umbrella Entertainment releases “The Dustwalker” onto DVD home video. The NTSC formatted, region 4 release runs at 95 minutes and is rated MA15+ for strong horror, themes, and violence (and language if you’re easily offended by “what the fuck was that?” line stuck on repeat by the principle characters). Presented in a widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, image consistency holds throughout and really develops that dusty, outback setting with a bunch of aerial shots of the rocky terrain and spread apart shanties to tune up the isolation factor. David Le May’s blend of hard and natural lighting adds to emptiness as long shadows have no structures to bounce off on. However, some of May’s shooting techniques on filming the running infected tilted into being too cleanly staged that often downplayed the tingling fear from the organic full speed sprint of a crazed person. “The Dustwalker” standalones as a feature without any bonus materials on the DVD which isn’t atypical of many Umbrella Entertainment releases. There were also no bonus scenes during or after the credits. Supporting Sandra Sciberras’ “The Dustwalker” has been nothing less than controversial for the soul due chiefly against the derivative storyline from a better assembled modern classic that’s full of gore, fun, and, at that time, an ingenious concept, but “The Dustwalker” clone feels pieced together by the leftover scraps of an august predecessor.

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When EVIL Isn’t That Black & White. “Choir Girl” reviewed! (Nexus Production Group / Digital Screener)

Eugene lives a lonely, pitiable existence.  Residing with his ailing father in a slum neighborhood, his photography background captures the crime and the desolation that surrounds him, snapping pictures without ever interceding with his crime-riddled subjects, in an attempt to hold an exhibition or sell his work to a high profile magazine, Slipstream, as his ticket out of the despair that engulfs him.  When Eugene stumbles upon young teenage girls being drugged and held for prostitution, he becomes fixated on Josephine when a low-level editor, seeing her as a professional stepping stone, prods him for more pictures that evoke hope out of her situation, but when he finally intervenes, helping her escape, Eugene falls into a world of a massive prostitution ring with doctors, cops, and major organizations on the payroll and a kingpin named Daddy at the helm.  The deeper the debt placed upon him for showing compassion to Josephine, the more the lines blur on whether he’s become his muse’s lone savior or just his meal ticket out his current life.

How far will your moral principles take you to save a teenage girl when you’re locked into a no-win situation?  That’s the theme explored to a shocking sexual assault conclusion in John Fraser’s 2019 unscrupulous Australian thriller, “Choir Girl.”  Introducing Fraser’s first credited written and directed full length feature film, shot entirely in black and white, the Melbourne arthouse and a goose egg-fairytale version of “Pretty Woman” speaks volumes toward the perceived illegality of immigration, the horrors of sex-trade, and the touch-and-go balance act between doing what’s right and self-serving opportunities with a 15-year old girl’s fate dangling at the end of a line.  “Choir Girl” is produced by Ivan Malekin under his Melbourne based label, Nexus Production Group, along with Lucinda Bruce serving as co-producer.

To carry “Choir Girl” through the muck of it all, a strong performance must arduously burden the gravity of the content and Peter Flaherty astounds with an ingloriously flawed and unlikely hero, Eugene.  “The Butcher Possessions” and “KIllervision” actor masts a greasily haggard with bordering neurodevelopment issues, disheveled in his attire, and walks with a noticeable limp, made intentionally noticeable when as he walks away from characters and situations.  Though Eugene seems meek, the shutterbug aches to improve himself by seemingly exploiting others as a freelance photographer and being persistent in that pursuit until becoming engrossed into a 15-year-old prostitute’s life struggle blossoming before our eyes a rather unsettling grown man and teenage girl relationship that assumes a pedophilia ideology of adoring the child to the extent of protection, but also falls in to grooming and sexual exploitation.  The film introduces audiences to Sarah Timm, playing Eugene’s muse, Josephine, an Eastern European illegal immigrant who literally has nothing left that is her own, this including her body, when forced into sex slavery so when Eugene and other characters call her diminutively by Jo, she immediately corrects them to call her Josephine in order to keep the one thing left that is still hers, her name.  In her first feature role, and a mightily demanding role it is with the amount of discomfiture of playing essentially an abused child, the German native will have audiences overlooking the fact that she’s portraying a teenager in the sordid sultriness of sex-trafficking with crafting Josephine’s war-torn history and pre-adolescent childhood stories as always the girl in the background, the unpretty forgotten girl that blended in and no one noticed, until she’s a part of a much larger, more ferocious, uncompromising system that Daddy (Jack Campbell) dictates with CCTV live feeds of every sleazy, scummy hotel bedroom in his syndicated footprint.  The cruelty that Jack Campbell reins savors every facet of Daddy’s being on screen with an intent to be a immovable roadblock in Eugene’s advanced for progress and for John Fraser’s “Choir Girl,” the character development and personalities find justification from the cast with the exception of one, the low on the totem pole and self-absorbed Slipstream magazine editor, Polly.  Krista Vendy imposes on Polly’s rabid  narcissism with an incredibility that becomes the underbelly amongst a bloc of solid performances.  Andy McPhee (“Wolf Creek”), Lee Mason (“The Caretaker”), Jillian Murray (“Body Melt”), and Kym Valentine fill out supporting roles. 

I love the juxtaposition opening of Eugene in his dark room in the middle of photographic processing his oblivious subjects, including a drug abusing child with a hypodermic heroine needle sticking out of his arm, a blowjob being serviced between a wall and bushes, or the aftermath of man being beaten with his assailants walking away from his leveled body, and then the title fades in from black and the next scene is of a framed magazine cover with the cover title “It’s All Back and White.”  The sequence sets up perfectly the entire premise driving “Choir Girl’s” gray area circumstances that nothing substantial, meaningful, or controversial can be black and white. Plus, the entire film is shot in black and white furthering the contrivance of the theme. The gray area challenging Eugene is a tightrope walk when squeezed for payment for snatching Josephine by the amoral organization claiming property theft, making him submit to the idiom of pulling his strings like a marionette or shooting at his feet to make him dance for insatiable perverse satisfaction. Eugene rarely displays remorse in his demeanor, face, or actions for the things he does and doesn’t do when faced with adversity in a slither of sociopathic idiosyncrasy, but when outright criticized for his inaction, he’s able to right wrongs with deplorable methods like a toddler trying to mop up a grape juice spill with mother’s expensive, white dress. There’s a bit of innocence or naivety in Eugene’s mind as you can almost see the gears slowly spinning when confronted but in the defense of the man who no really gave the time of day, those gyrating mice wheels of delicate thought snuck past every contingency against Eugene surviving Daddy’s deadly game, leading to an unsavory solution that puts the viewer in an awkward spot to either avert the eyes or remained captivated to see it through.

 

I, for one, remained seated, steadfast to the end, hypnotized by audacity of John Fraser in his feature film directorial, “Choir Girl,” that has arrived onto Apple’s iTunes. The unrated film is presented in it’s original aspect ratio of a widescreen format and will have an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound availability. Though derided as kitschy at times, the black and white veneer works here inside “Choir Girl’s” vascular system of catch-22s and director of photography, Mark Kenfield, rides a consistent straighten arrow style with steady cam shots, decent framing, and some tracking shots without pushing the envelope in regards to angles or oscillation. There were no bonus content or additional scenes during or after the credits. “Choir Girl” sings no praises of hallelujah. Offers no solace in time of hardship. If you’re looking for a movie that touches you, then you’re in for a rude awakening as “Choir Girl” obliterates the moral standards, leaving faith outside, with a severe penance in abetting the Devil’s work, selling their soul to do what’s right.

The Dying Baltic Traditions Live in the Ashes of EVIL. “Cult Girls” (Umbrella Entertainment / DVD)

The pagan Cult, the Golden Path, remains nearly all that is left of the ancient practice as Lithuania becomes one of the last countries to be converted to Christianity in the late 14th century.  Led by an archaic, yet powerful, goddess named Ragana, the Golden Path promises to flourish once again with the power of death, reincarnation, and control through sordid misdeeds.  When Dalia and her two young sisters become prepped for a ritual of an important role in the cult, potentially leading them down the path of sex and sacrifice, a traitorous follower helps the sisters attempt to escape their emmeshing fate as the police raid the Golden Path compound ensuing a firefight that leads to the death Ragana and Dalia’s getaway, but her sisters are kidnapped and held captive by the remaining cult members.  Years later and riddled with guilt, Dalia must know what happened to her sisters and she tracks down a death metal cultist, Moloch, who seemingly has a connection to Golden Path, with the help of Samoth, a black metal fanatic, but Moloch forestry hermit lifestyle cuts off Dalia and Samoth from the rest of the world and the convicted arsonist against all things Christianity may have more up his sleeve than what meets the eye.

With a title that sounds like an all-girl goth band from the grunge era of the 1990’s, or maybe even more so from the “Scooby Doo” franchise (Hex Girls anyone?), “Cult Girls” summons the actuality of being an acute quasi-historical and dark fantasy thriller hailing from the Ozploitation capital of the world, Australia.  “Cult girls” is the second, non-documentary film from “The Matrix’ inspired “Narcosys” director, Mark Bakaitis, who directed, wrote, and edited his the multi-location sophomore film that has on location scenes from not only in Australia, but also in Lithuania, at the notable Hill of Crosses landmark, and in the indiscernible urban locations of Germany.  Bakaitis serves as producer alongside executive producer Douglas Kaplan of the diverse arts platform production company, All Edge Entertainment, based in Santa Monica, California. 

The Australian production casts an American to star as Ragana, the brood matriarch destined to rejuvenate Golden Path’s permanence, with “V’s” very own Jane Badler.  Badler brings an international presence to the feature and isn’t a stranger to films from the down under.  With the actress’s soul-seducing cutting eyes and demonic empress allure, the New York born Badler exacts Ragana’s clutching strength as an underground Pagan seeking unlimited decadent power.  However, Badler is overshadowed by the timorousness of Dalia whose polar opposite presence is granted a more favorable chunk of screen time.  Finnish born Saara Lamberg plays the humbled Dalia, living her life out of a covenant while searching out the cult that once almost stitched her into the sew of sleazy affairs to unearth the whereabouts of her younger sisters.  Dalia’s a bit of a dull principle with no substantiated efforts in finding her siblings and it isn’t until Samoth stalks her one night, recognizing the Golden Path’s symbol tattooed on her wrist and offering his manhunt services to find the expelled Moloch, an exaggerated black metal anti-Christianity anarchist in a saturating performance by Albert Goikhman.  In the middle, masked brutes, half naked women, and, fallen by the waist side, Dalia’s sisters in standalone plot point narratives that, as far as story structure goes, does nothing to motivate the narrative other than be an ostentatious aesthetic of locations and debauchery.  “Cult Girls” rounds out the cast with Tony Markulin (“MurderDrome”), Algias Karazija, Dean Kirkright, a handful of Bakaitis’s family, and Simay Argento, a distant relative to Dario Argeno playing a Cult Auntie in the film.

“Cult Girls” borders being avant-garde of an unfiltered auteur’s will in a mesh of artistic polishes and prose dialogue, but the film slides into being more of an 83 minute music video over staying it’s welcome and drudges through a repetitive stylistic cycle to an almost nearly unwatchable extent.  Yet, “Cult Girls” somehow manages to retain attention despite the chewy acting and it’s ambling story that hits a dam wall of uncertainly of where the script should head. Bakaitis shoulders the story for modern Gothicism tapped with half naked occultist, sometimes bathing in blood, and a plague of nightmare imagery that director of photography Trent Schneider tunes into well with noir vitality despite being the cinematographer’s debut feature film, but through the shiny exterior of a handful of solid mise-en-scene work, “Cult Girls” numbs the impact of the soul corrupting Pagan syndicate, that may or may not be shrouded with supernatural foundations, and the anti-Christian propaganda with half-baked violence from geriatric men, masked with Dia de los Muertos style masks, able to be kingpins of an untouchable prostitution ring façade for their occult sacrifices in broad public without a bat of an eyelash.  Granted, prostitution is likely legal in Germany and Lithuania so authorities might turn a blind eye, but brothels are a convenient opportunity for police investigations. “Cult Girls” treasures the fact of Lithuania’s languishing heritage without being overly filmic heresy by blending in shaded sleaze and death, but there lies no story in Dalia’s unenthusiastic search for her sisters in a much more preacherly themed death metal horror that confuses cult with religion.

 

Apocalyptic reincarnations and traditional folklores collide in Mark Bakaitis’s “Cult Girls” on DVD now from Umbrella Entertainment. The Australian release is a single layer DVD with region 4, PAL encoded format, presented in a widescreen 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Trent Schneider’s keen eye captures a grim fairytale surface of black magic masochism and, at the same time, breathtaking in the pure nature scenes, but the imagery is mostly in devoid of richer color that lingers around a bluish-gray monochrome tone and struggles with hazy details, especially around facial features, that smoothly fuzz over. The English, German, and Lithuanian Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mix battens down with shiplap genres of traditional Lithuania folk and modern metal from composing sound designer Erin McKimm, implementing the traditional songs of Lithuania sung by the Melbourne-Lithuania community singers, The Lost Clogs. Industrial action fills in every nook and cranny of the remaining score with decent range and depth of ambiance. While the dialogue is prominent and clear, there are spelling errors and tiny text issues with the English subtitles when the narrative lands in Germany and Lithuania. The DVD’s bonus features includes audio commentary, making of featurettes with cast and crew interviews, Bakaitis’s short film, “Mercy Kill” that serves one of the founding themes for “Cult Girls,” and music videos directed by Mark Bakaitis. For an Australian film, “Cult Girls” will feel more worldly, unlike anything else that comes out of Australia, and have partisan propaganda against Christianity, but in the end, the insidious Pagan evil, on the precipice of resurrecting, wearies on, like a tireless sermon of doom.