Dark Place


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Dark Place
"Though they're wildly out of balance, there's a lot here worth taking a look at." | Photo: Courtesy of FrightFest

An anthology aimed at showcasing the diversity of indigenous Australian horror fare, Dark Place is comprised of five shorts: Scout, Foe, Vale Light, The Shore and Killer Native. They're introduced with a screen that looks like a Nineties wannabe-goth website, but don't let that put you off. Though they're wildly out of balance, there's a lot here worth taking a look at.

First up, Kodie Beford's Scout is a short tale about sex trafficking that morphs into a bloody revenge fantasy. It's a tough watch, not just because the awful plight of its female characters (and the awareness that indigenous women face a high risk of this type of violence and exploitation in real life), but also because it plays out very much in line with the kind of fantasy experienced by people with PTSD. There's an obsessive quality about it, a sense of emotional fixation so intense that no amount of violence can ultimately resolve it. We see just a short period in these characters' lives (during which Beford studiously avoids anything that might titillate less sensitive viewers) but we know that the damage done to them will last. Shot in shipping containers and basements, the film is dark and gritty in texture as well as in tone.

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Next comes Foe, the weakest of the bunch, from director Liam Phillips. Clearly influenced by Paranormal Activity, it explores the sense of dislocation and confusion about one's own identity that can develop from seriously disrupted sleep. Its grieving, struggling heroine tries to navigate the kind of intersectional prejudice that masquerades as helpfulness. It may be genuinely well intentioned but it leaves her more vulnerable than ever. Sadly, though there are some good ideas here, they fall apart in the execution, not least due to poor quality special effects. Sometimes, if it's not possible to depict a thing properly, it's best not to put in onscreen at all.

In the middle we get Rob Btaslin's Vale Light, which injects some much needed energy into the anthology despite is underlying darkness. It's the story of a single mother and her precocious daughter who have just moved into a new Tasmanian housing estate and have to deal with a pushy white neighbour. Perhaps she's just lonely, but her collection of artefacts from different countries suggests something else. Concerns about colonialism blend with something supernatural. The worried mother tries hard to exert control over the situation as her daughter and the neighbour grow increasingly close, and her strong performance grounds the narrative all the way up to its unfortunately cheesy (but perhaps culturally redemptive) ending.

The fourth film is very different. An existentialist vampire fable gorgeously shot in black and white, it marks out director Perun Bonser as one to watch. Though slight on plot, it captures a powerful sense of otherworldliness and lends a good deal of artistic weight to the collection.

It couldn't be more distinct from the final film, Bjorn Stewart’s killer Native. Essentially a proof of concept which is now being turned into a feature, this is an energetic romp which follows a pair of settlers as they try to stake a claim in the bush. "We put a stick in it so it's ours. Haven't you heard of the law of the stick?" the erstwhile conqueror demands of a local man in an attempt to prove his greater sophistication. But the area where this particular stick has been stuck is a troubled one. To survive, all three of these people need to bond together against a deadly foe stalking them through the close-packed trees. Will they figure that out in time? Of course not. Stewart is clearly at his happiest when up to his armpits in gore. If silly jokes and intestines are your bag, this is the one for you.

Varied as it is, Dark Place is unlikely to have seamless appeal for many viewers, but it succeeds in raising new voices and one hopes that it signals interesting things to come.

Reviewed on: 30 Aug 2020
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Dark Place packshot
An anthology of indigenous Australian horror tales.

Director: Kodie Bedford, Perun Bonser, Rob Braslin, Liam Phillips, Bjorn Stewart

Writer: Kodie Bedford, Perun Bonser, Rob Braslin, Liam Phillips, Bjorn Stewart

Starring: Nelson Baker, Katherine Beckett, Shakira Clanton, Bernard Curry

Year: 2019

Runtime: 75 minutes

Country: Australia


Frightfest 2020

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