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Review: Spotlight of The Eyes of My Mother, Baskin, Under the Shadow, Fear Itself – MIFF


The first half of the Melbourne International Film Festival has flown by, and I’ve already seen some great films like Cosmos, Paterson and The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki. Among the films I’ve seen, though, there’s been a fantastic selection of horror films, and I thought I’d spotlight four of them: three narrative features, all by first-time filmmakers, and a documentary.

First up, The Eyes of My Mother. An American film, but with occasional Portuguese dialogue, it’s one of the first films I got to see and it’s still stayed with me. One day, a little girl witnesses some terrible violence in her home; an intruder shows up but is subsequently overpowered, and from that moment that violence seeps through to her brain as she grows up and her life spirals into chilling psychopathic behaviour. Shot in black-and-white, there’s a wistful, melancholy, poetic tone enshrouding the on-screen horror. With echoes of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the film delves into some very dark places, both explicit and not. But despite the disturbing and violent developments the film manages to retain a beautiful, almost meditative atmosphere, and our sympathy for the central character never leaves even though she’s doing awful, awful things. I mean, all she wants is a family… in a way…
A very promising debut by filmmaker Nicolas Pesce. Maybe hug a loved one after this.

Next up, there’s Baskin. Another highly disturbing horror film, this time from Turkey, written and directed by Can Evrenol. A group of police officers receive a distress call in a remote building and head over to investigate. Once there they discover some truly hellish stuff. The film’s got lots of graphic gore and screaming, with a shudderingly creepy main villain. The visuals are striking and colourful and the score is particularly vivid. Unfortunately, there’s not much of anything else. The pacing is uneven and I didn’t really find myself being invested in any of the characters, so despite several really interesting and horrifying sequences it all in all made for unengaging viewing. Some great ideas in this, but not entirely well-executed.

Moving slightly east again we have Under the Shadow, by Babak Anvari, set in Iran in the 1980s, after the Iranian revolution and during the Iran-Iraq conflicts. It centres on a woman and her husband and young daughter living in an apartment block in Tehran. Not only is there the constant threat of missile attacks but some strange, nightmarish things start to occur, and when the father is called away to military service the mother and daughter are left to deal with the supernatural dread that plagues them. Under the Shadow does a fantastic job of channeling serious political and parental fears into a deliciously slow-burning terror, the tension building and building, holding you captive until it explodes in the final ten to fifteen minutes, unleashing full-scale horror. All throughout it stays gripping, then right at the end it starts ripping. Excellently shot with some unsettling camera movements and production design that captures the period as well as the evil closing in. Probably my favourite of the three.

Finally, I saw Fear Itself, a documentary on horror films written and directed by Charlie Lyne. Or rather, it’s not so much a documentary as a cine-essay, a stream of thoughts on horror films and the way that they relate to real human fears and anxieties. Impressive in scope and mesmerising in equal measure, the film itself is essentially a collage, in that it consists entirely of edited-together footage from existing horror films, and hypnotic narration over the top that takes you on an engrossing journey through humanity’s darkness. The range of films chosen is admirable, encompassing a vast range of horror cinema from across the world and throughout history, even using some films that aren’t traditionally considered horror films but which have certain elements that illustrate the points that the filmmaker is trying to make about horror films, which in turn ties back to the points he makes about humanity. And the exploration of the themes is engrossing, thoughtful and at times quite personal. It’s transfixing and thought-provoking and highly recommended not just for horror fans but for anyone interested in the depths of the human soul.

And that’s all the horror films at the festival that I’ve been able to see so far, but there’s more to come! A few I’m looking forward to are Killing Ground and The Devil’s Candy, both by Australian directors, as well as The Lure and The Love Witch, which from what I’ve heard are very very weird, and I can’t wait.

There’s still another week left of the festival, so get out there and start shitting your pants in terror. I’ll be in the cinema with you, toilet paper in hand.

Till next time, see you there…

Written by Ben Volchok


August 25th 2016
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