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!

EVIL Must Be Broken In Before Being Used. “The Wheel” reviewed!


In the near future, paraplegic inmate Matthew Mills volunteers under pressure to join a Satoshi-Telefair Industries experimental treatment program that not only promises to reduce his sentence, but to also to regain mobility in his legs. With nothing more than the hope to return to his daughter, Mills is enticed by the agreement and gives himself to a shadow company who regularly contracts with the military, facilitating deep underground at an isolated site. Shortly after signing the release form, he awakes in a dark, steel cell known as The Wheel and is able to move his legs again, but the jubilation quickly subsides as armored men with batons visit his cell to beat and break his body in order for the nano technology, injected amongst his anatomy, to rebuild damaged tissue and make him stronger. The ordeal torments him, but to the researchers observing every detail of his recovery and behavior, Mills is just subject 2-1, another potential subject destined for the Future Soldier Initiative where the unethical testing must continue.

Shady shadow corporations, experimental nano-material rehabilitation and enhancement, and high level science fiction noir from writer James S. Abrams and director Dee McLachlan with 2019’s “The Wheel.” As if not already obvious from filmmaker’s nationalities, “The Wheel” is produced by and shot by Australian production companies SunJive Studios and Film Victoria, a state government agency that advocates funding and other filming assistances for shooting films in sectors of Victoria, Australia. “The Wheel’s” steely posture mirrors the frigid winter snow of Melbourne, Victoria’s covered forests that’s beautiful, yet deadly in the conventional beauty of nature. Yet, “The Wheel” delves into the meddling of what makes man and what also drives man as the story persists on the subject of redesigning the human body, but what that notion doesn’t take into account is what if the human body’s reactions doesn’t go as planed and a clapback ensues with all the synthetic re-wiring behind it? This is what Abrams and McLachlan intended to explore.

Australian actor Jackson Gallagher stars as Matthew Mills, a cripple with a purpose. The “Patrick” actor has been adrift from the darker roles since 2013 until up now with his main role in “The Wheel” that demanded a certain physicality that involved fight sequences with one, or two, or even three opponents and some ariel ropes work. The physically fit Gallagher not only survives the daunting workload, but hastily pulls Mills through his character’s tough transition from hopeful paraplegic to overly confident ultimate fighting weapon without an earnest core of struggle. The same can be said with Dr. Allison Turner played by Kendal Rae (“Out of the Shadows”). Turner’s a rogue researcher who had her practicing credentials revoked after the mistreatment of lab monkeys and was sought after by the Satoshi-Telefair for her detachment qualities, but her Turner’s character also didn’t quite arc properly and resembled a midway plateau from the moment Mills became her research subject. The only character that stayed the course was Dr. Emmett Snyder, a loyal Sataoshi-Telefair researcher to the bone. When he’s not suplexing or drop kicking in a championship wrestling match, David Arquette does dabble in acting. The “Scream” veteran actor fills in a rather unlikely antagonistic role, but the wild eye Arquette remains taut in his performance. “The Wheel” also costars Belinda McClory (“Matrix”). Christopher Kirby (“Daybreakers”), Victoria Liu, and Ben Still.

The spoke of the “The Wheel” rotates on a monotonic and frosty shoulder axle colored in gun metal and iced with dystopian immoralities. Every breathing element and inanimate objects is in a state of distant identity being bestowed labels in a combination of letters and numbers. The utilitarian wheel, an underground experiment facility that shifts rooms up and down and can be rotated to the other side, has no windows or any kind of necessary function other than to test subjects. Where “The Wheel” goes full “Equilibrium” by lacking emotional depth and substance without a coup d’état of the bleak authority, “The Wheel” also lacks vigor to break the blank uniformity and tries to speed through Mills patriarchal fluff to provide reason for his endurance and to provide reason for audiences to care. The epicenter theme to Mills motivation and escape is the thought of getting back to his daughter by any means necessary and was deemed fit to lay by the waist side to rely more on the hand-to-hand fighting like an overly glorified 70’s martial arts film.

Umbrella Entertainment distributes the sci-fi, action film, “The Wheel,” produced by SunJive Studios and Film Victoria onto a region free DVD home video. The clean digital picture in a widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, has a crisp demeanor that exact a bunch of natural lighting outside with a bit of a lower contrast inside dark “The Wheel” itself. What I found more appealing the anti-aliasing of the drone footage over the snowy covered Victoria forest, suggesting a higher bitrate compression that offers a seamless and smooth recording. The 5.1 English language Dolby audio is offered up with no whiff of an Australian accent in a lossless track that sounds good on the surround channels during action scenes. Dialogue is clear amongst the ample range and depth of ambient layers of researches watching and speaking through comms from inside a box watching another guy inside a box. Like other Umbrella releases, “The Wheel” has no special features nor a static menu. “The Wheel” has ice in the veins, but no warmth in it’s heart that seems vertically challenged on a horizontal slope of dystopian disorder.

The Wheel on DVD