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.

Own “The Dustwalker” on DVD!

A Troubled Family’s EVIL Dynamic. “Kindred” reviewed! (IFC Midnight / Digital Screener)

When Ben and Charlotte declare a decision to move from the English countryside to Australia, Ben’s ardent mother, Margaret, refuses to let her son move away from his family and responsibility in overseeing the massive manor property that’s been in his family for generations.  Despite friction between mother and son, even after the unsuspected announcement of Charlotte with child, the young couple are eager to start their new lives abroad.  An accident causes the sudden death of Ben that takes a psychological toll on Charlotte.  Margaret, and Ben’s aim-to-please brother-in-law, abruptly move Charlotte into the grand manor home as she floats through grief, but their overwhelming generosity turns into obsession with her every move, corralling her to do what’s best for the unborn child with undue stress based off her own family’s mental history.  As Charlotte resists more against the family’s insistence she stay, the stronger their grip on her tightens. 

Sometimes, meeting your partner’s family can be uncomfortably standoffish.  In Joe Marcantonio’s psychological thriller “Kindred,” reticent of personal gain and admission of truth becomes a thick, abrasive wall of tension that crimps the fringes of family relations and mental instability.  The writer-director’s debut feature film hailing from the United Kingdom, releasing this November 6th, tampers with the control over one’s own body through the traumatized perception of a pregnant woman with predispositions on having children in the first place and on her dead boyfriend’s unusual family, coursing with unsettling mental and emotional warfare that’s already tipped in one side’s favor.  The 101 minute, English-made thriller is a co-production of Reiver Pictures and Serotonin Films in association with the makers of “Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies,” Phil Hunt and Tom Harberd of Head Gear Films and Compton and Elliot Ross of UK based Kreo Films.

The players in this tumbling mix of disturbing cat and mouse antics are more or less confined to a skewed variation of an immediate family though none of characters are exactly blood relatives.  Neither Charlotte, Margaret, or Thomas share an smidgen of the same DNA, but have become entangled, in one way or another, into Margaret’s hampering incubator that shelter’s their distinct and varied, sometimes uncooperative, personalities.  Margaret is beholden to memory to her late son, Ben, and exposing Margaret’s egotistic manipulations so wonderfully subtle and true is Fiona Shaw of the “Harry Potter” saga in a role that isn’t so dissimilar to the blunt nastiness of her Aunt Petunia character, but renders a more fierce, enshrouding malice that’s less caricature.  The Irish born Shaw and “DunKirk’s” Jack Lowdon dance a beguiling routine of mother and son as Lowdon plays Margaret’s step-son, Thomas.  Thomas tends to Margaret’s every snippy whim, being a charming and gleaming host, and an overall nice guy, but deep in the recesses of our minds we know something is just not right with Thomas’s polished veneer that soon will explode with true intentions out of dormancy.  Yet, things might not be okay with our seeming heroine either in Charlotte.  Charlotte is very weary of Margaret and Thomas who indirectly, through her eyes, hold hostage the mother-to-be from fleeing the family now that the connection is broken with Ben’s death.  In her debut principle feature film performance, Tamara Lawrance’s Charlotte scribbles outside the lines that smudges the contours of perception reality, adding a complexity component to her character that may or may not being suffering from parental depression commingled with external stress that treats Charlotte like a child in herself.  Chloe Pirrie, Anton Lesser (“Game of Thrones”), and Edward Holcroft (“Vampire Academy”) round out “Kindred’s” strong supporting cast.

Marcantonio’s “Kindred” splits the focal point of isolating tension, dividing the source into two distinct paths from the point of a view of the self-protective besieged.  In one hand, the pregnant and mentally vulnerable Charlotte experiences apprehension of being forcibly, and manipulatively, instructed by Margaret and Thomas to do what’s best for the baby…Ben’s baby.  Having never seen eye-to-eye or felt comfortable around Ben’s instable mother and peculiar brother-in-law, Charlotte has no Ben as a buffer against their coarse personas, overpowering her as a tag-team of self-interest, but most of everything Charlotte experiences is filtered by past judgements about them.  Alternatively, Margaret, Thomas, and even her boyfriend Ben, note directly to Charlotte her mother’s history with postpartum depression.  The undercurrent theory that it produces brings an under the table perception of how audiences will then try to solve Charlotte’s predicamental puzzle.  On the surface level, Charlotte is being held captive and drugged by her late boyfriend’s estranged family; obscurely, Charlotte’s terror is manifested by a loathed family lineage of mental illness and when your observations goes in one direction per the mind’s pre-wired setup, but all the evidence points to the contradiction, audiences will begin to empathize more closely to the harrowing experiences, through childlike control, of an unstable mind on the brink of a break.  Marcantionio very clearly makes things unclear of an in-between reality that challenges not only audiences, but also Charlotte, on what’s real and not real of the mind’s emphasis.  However, not everything is teed up perfectly as some of the abstract visuals, i.e. Charlotte’s dreams of ravens and horses, fall more into the rigors of psychological concepts that become lost in the affect of either pathway toward what could be considered a Schrodinger’s Cat finale as Charlotte, stuck inside a manor house that’s symbolically a box, could be both sane and insane.

 

Family can be a finicky thing and “Kindred” is a fastidious look at the instability of family and mental illness which can be, in filmmaker Joe Marcantonio’s eye, interchangeable.  Setting up shop before families get together for the impending holiday season, IFC Midnight will release “Kindred” in select theaters, on digital platforms, and on VOD November 6th.  In regards to the look of the film, director of photography, Carlos Catalan, hones in on a series of medium to medium-closeup shots while grasping very little toward widescreen shots, especially being shot mostly in a grand manor house in Scotland.  When Catalan has symmetrical framing, the allusion is gesturing grand with loneliness, but the cinematographer rarely has the frame centered, often creating an unnerving amount of space in the depth when juxtaposed with an uncentered character in the closeup all the while in natural light to not feign cynicism through use of color or filter. The only time filters are used are in the purple hued airy dream sequences with the raven and horses that become a metaphorical motif of Charlotte’s embattled dreams. The score is composed by a UK collaboration of multi-instrumental composers in Natalie Holt and Jack Halama. Holt’s harsh violin chords with Halama’s drama-fueling classical style produced hints of Mark Korven’s “The Witch” in similar tones, but explode with targeted dissensions that spur equally emotional dissensions amongst the characters. There were no bonus features included with the digital screener nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. “Kindred” is relationally disjointing, disturbingly psychological, and textbook taut with tension as one of the best familiar thrillers to come out of the United Kingdom in the last quarter of the year.

EVIL Uses EVIL as a Conduit in “Amulet” reviewed! (Digital Screener / Magnet Releasing)


Tomaz, former Eastern European soldier of war is now living homeless in London, squatting overnight in rundown buildings with other displaced individuals and families. When the building he’s sleeping in goes up in fire, he’s injured upon escape and wakes in a hospital to learn that a nun found him and his belongings, leaving him a note to visit her upon his release. The nun, Sister Claire, offers him food and a bed in exchange for dire house maintenance for a sickly mother, Miriam, and her caretaker daughter, Magda. As time passes, Tomaz begins to fall for Magda, but her odd behavior and the dying Miriam’s severe skeleton living accommodations in the attic as well as her frail, pail body nag at Tomaz’s conscious that something is awfully amiss. However, his present enigma isn’t the only thing tugging at his tormented conscious when faced with the shocking truth of his residence.

Actress turned filmmaker, Romola Garai, makes her full-length feature debut with a fissionable creepy, punish-thy-sinners, slow burn horror film entitled, “Amulet.” The UK production is written and directed by Garai, who previous work includes main cast acting roles in Joe Wright’s World War II dramatic thriller, “Atonement,” the sci-fi horror “The Last Days on Mars” along with costar Liev Schreiber, and filling in some tremendous shoes in the prequel to the 1987 rom-edy, “Dirty Dancing,” “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights.” Now, Garai peers through camera lens, orchestrating from the director’s chair, an eerie body horror tale that involves demons, past regrets, and a diabolical, antiheroic nun conniving for the sake of humanity. Speaking of which, humanity is one of the central themes that “Amulet” explores in hellish fashion as our actions determine the outcome of our various shade of humanity forged ourselves and how we will be judged accordingly. “Amulet” is a production of Head Gear Films and Kreo Films FZ, and Metrol Technology, who have all collaborated on “Cargo, as well as in association with “Shed of the Dead’s” Trigger Films.

Cast in “Amulet’s” only male role is the Romanian born Alec Secareanu as Tomaz. The graduate of Caragiale Academy of Theatrical Arts and Cinematography actor envelops himself into a trouble ex-soldier without a country, unwilling to return to a worn-torn land in hopes to relieve himself from reliving the past. Secareanu exudes tenderness for Tomaz in order for audiences to empathize for a homeless man who has agreed to assist Magda and her ill mother. Garai engrains Tomaz with such sentimentality, it’s proves difficult to see the man any other way until the filmmaker incorporates Magda into the mix, a capricious role imparted upon to “Blade Runner 2049’s” Carla Juri. Juri moderately reprises her eccentrically free performance from the 2013 comedy-drama, “Wetlands,” as a seething promiscuous and alluring woman but, in the darker vision of “Amulet,” Magda is a servant of her dying mother who has a lying in wait, sheathed vocation yet to be revealed until Tomaz’s curiosity becomes too much. Secareanu’s and Juri’s performances define the characters with no details left out, but the overall best performance goes to Imelda Staunton as Sister Claire. As professor Dolores Umbridge from “Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix,” Staunton was maniacal as she was sophisticated, channeling that same energy into Sister Claire as a double-dealing nun with a fraudulent ebullient attitude. Sister Claire was molded surely for the English actress whose high cheekbones, tight mouth, and round eyes give her a perfect blend of meek malice. “Amulet” rounds out the cat with Angeliki Papoulia and Jacqueline Roberts.

“Amulet” scores well as a feminist’s film, more so as the debut film from a woman filmmaker, that takes the horrifying actions of men and, literally, demonizes their red herring benevolence, but, in Garai’s style, that isn’t overly provocative and megaphoned from a soapbox. The doleful, sometimes frivolous, tone regales in a bleaker light of conniving and withholding intentions. While “Amulet” relishes inside an original thought, the story ebbs with disjointed connective dots. The story itself isn’t linear as we’re moved back and forth between Tomaz’s tenure at Madga’s residence and his wartime past being posted up far from the frontlines in isolation, a moment Tomaz continues to relive while dreaming during his time his hands are self-bound with tape, a curious event that becomes important to note as the story unfolds. While the story isn’t linear, that is not why the audiences’ problematic pursuit will be challenging, but more so with the discerning of the amulets role amongst the trifecta of outcomes for Tomaz, Magda, and Sister Claire. The amulet, which is unearthed by Tomaz in the middle of the woods during his draft, is a woman with a shell headdress. Shells are a common motif throughout, serving as a warning of what to come. In some Christianity folklore, shells are a sign of light and salvation and, in a way, serve as Tomaz’s path toward salvation from a lost soul to provided a purpose with unholy consequences. It’s all interpretation, but “Amulet” is a novel look at blending religious predestination with a grim mythological tenor as an excellent melting pot source of ghastly affliction.

From Magnet Releasing comes the twisted tale of transgressional talisman, “Amulet,” from first time filmmaker Romola Garai. Since this film will release potentially in theaters and definitely on demand on July 24th, the digital screener will not be reviewed on it’s audio and video technical aspects, but Laura Bellingham, the direct of photography working on her debut full-length feature as well, introduces an uncomfortable warmth that engulfs the characters. It’s a reoccurring fire like theme, from Tomaz’s hotel inferno to Madga and Miriam’s home, that could be synonymous to the accommodations of fire and brimstone. Dialogue clarity is good and the ambience is equally fine. The soundtrack by Sarah Angliss didn’t do much for story, striking a pretermit chord in order to focus more on the story. There were no bonus features included with the digital screener nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. “Amulet” is the very definition of feminist horror that bludgeons the stereotype and is well executed to deliver not just a subvert message of importance, but a damn fine film of dreadful body horror and artful mythos.