Whenever I get the chance to review an anthology movie, I jump at it as it’s a subgenre I particularly enjoy. I love a good collection of scary stories and this one has a particularly interesting selling point, the quintet here being indigenous tales from Australia which look at post-colonial Aboriginal history and issues through the lens of horror, casting indigenous actors in most of the roles.
Opening with what I thought was by far the strongest segment, the Kodie Bedford-directed Scout is a grimy, hard to watch tale of captive females used for prostitution, focusing on the title character who endures the most hideous treatment while looking for just one chance to wreak bloody revenge on the men who put her there. Unflinching, uncompromising and with the brutal treatment of native people by rich white men somehow attempting to justify their actions writ large, it’s an explosive, impressive piece of work.
The tone shifts to something less outwardly ferocious in Liam Phillip’s Foe, in which an insomniac struggles to come to terms with the effect her condition is having on her. Is she losing her grip on reality? Mixing a traditional movie approach with found footage-style interludes, the subsequent investigations lead to a disturbing discovery and a chilling downer of a parting shot.
Vale Light, helmed by Rob Braslin, features a housing commission estate experiencing a series of increasingly dangerous supernatural occurrences that could place a young girl in danger. Even within its limited confines in terms of run time, there’s time to set up a few suspects as to who’s at the centre of it all and the reveal is both creepy and satisfying, providing a resolution and leaving the viewer with questions about what’s possibly to come.
From there, we leave the urban setting and head to the coast for Perun Bonser’s The Shore, an atmospheric black and white tale which will tick the boxes for Gothic horror fans out there. Short on dialogue but long on beautifully composed tableaux, the long-established lurking fear storyline is perfectly functional but mostly takes a back seat to the inescapably eerie mood of the work. As with many of its bedfellows in this collection, you’re left with an affecting, powerful image.
Killer Native, from director Bjorn Stewart, rounds off the movie. It’s a grimly amusing take on infected/zombie movie tropes. Two English settlers look to build their own dream life in the new world and discover it’s not just the spiders and snakes out there trying to get them. The cartoony gore and the ultimately heartfelt message seem a little at odds with each other but the Brit caricatures are highly amusing and in general it’s a fittingly rollicking way to bow out.
Clocking in at a tight 75 minutes, there’s little chance to get bored with any of the segments and even if you do, there’s going to be another one along soon enough. There’s no shortage of atmosphere across the piece and the themes explored should be applauded even if the messages aren’t always delivered with the lightest of touches.
Having the strongest segment as the opener is both a blessing and a curse. Scout makes you sit bolt upright and take notice for the rest of the running time but nothing following it comes close to its raw and emotional punch. In my view, there are no weak links here and the five stories here contrast pleasingly in terms of both style and content but Dark Place’s curtain-raiser is so outstanding the effect is to raise expectations to a level that is downright unfair on its companion pieces.
Antipodean alarm can be fully appreciated. This is a fine selection of shiver-inducing sagas which is never less than bold, occasionally breath-taking, and if this is the standard of Australian indigenous horror, I say much more of this, please. You’ll want to take that metaphorical and cultural trip to the other side of the world.