An anthology of short horror films written and directed by Kodie Bedford, Perun Bonser, Rob Braslin, Liam Phillips and Bjorn Stewart, unpacking race relations and examining the colonial experience through the eyes of the new generation of Australian filmmakers. Starring: Nelson Baker, Katherine Beckett, Shakira Clanton, Bernard Curry, Jolie Everett, Charlie Garber, Luka May Glynn-Cole, Sara Pensalfini, Clarence Ryan, Tamala Shelton, Hugh Sheridan, Lily Sullivan, Josh Quong Tart, Natasha Wanganeen and Leonie Whyman.
The overall intention for the film to tackle genuine issues through the medium of horror is a fantastic idea and it’s very quickly clear that it has the ability to do so subtly and effectively. Being a theme on the more dramatic side, you wouldn’t likely predict how smoothly translating these stories into horror would be but in fact they work extremely well, they blend the more serious topics in an understated manner while remaining true to classic horror elements.
Events begin on a strong note, kicking that tension into gear from the get-go and becoming a string of suspenseful, violent and layered films. From teeth falling out to kidnapping to the supernatural, the film hits a lot of the classic features of horror and satisfyingly so. The films may only be between ten and twenty minutes long but they achieve a rounded enough arc to feel like a complete story, yet with enough mystery left to keep your imagination going but not too much as to feel short changed. Each directorial style is individual, each instance of writing is original but their combined styles work as a smooth ensemble of films, each building that suspense and tension. They’re also supported by a score that sits mostly in the background, doesn’t overbear the visual and has that lovely gradual build to strike you right as things heat up.
It’s tricky to delve into more specific aspects of the film without spoiling them but it’s great to see how they incorporate their message into the stories. For instance, the first short which deals with kidnapping and human trafficking makes a point to talk about the disparity of police work on cases of missing women when they’re not white, something that was also explored in Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River. It mixes a poignant message with vengeance, violence and gore, making it infinitely accessible and mixing entertainment with a meaningful message that can make you think, even after it has moved on. They’re interestingly varied of how overt their message is, giving them a layered feel, adding that touch of depth to make you think about what they’re saying rather than a straightforward horror. There’s also a varying level of special affects across the films but one thing that is consistent is the quality, it’s extremely high because the gore that appears is convincing, it’s realistic but not enough that you’ll be disgusted, just enough to add extra depth to its darkness.
The only thing that undercuts the otherwise brilliantly tense and layered tone to the film, is the last short in the anthology, Killer Native from Bjorn Stewart which instead goes for something more akin to parody leaning towards pantomime. However, the film itself works perfectly well on its own, it’s funny and silly and tackles racism and colonialism in a much more overt manner than the others but placing it at the very end of this anthology is thematically jarring and uncomfortable. There’s too large of a change in style, especially considering it takes up the final 20-minutes out of its fairly short 75-minute runtime, it begs a question of whether there was a better order to show the films in, for the flow to run as smoothly as it did up until that point. It simply doesn’t feel logical to place a comedic short that goes past the point of ridiculous, in a very outlandish fashion, at the end of an otherwise suspenseful, dark and chilling anthology, regardless of the fact that judged on its own merits it’s a great short, it’s simply setting itself up for biased viewing which is unfortunate.
Dark Place has pulled together an ensemble of very talented writer, directors with each of them bringing together original, captivating stories that hit some beloved notes of horror while actually having something to say. Things get a little messy in its final stage, tripping up its otherwise stellar line-up with unfortunate timing of a jarring thematic shift; which might have been avoided with including the last film earlier in the anthology. However, every film is of a very high quality, they each stand up by themselves as well as, for the most part, working together in an extremely cohesive fashion, letting each one build upon the tension of the last. It strikes an intriguing balance of styles that are both entertaining and satisfying to watch, while leading you into a discussion about the larger issues it raises under the surface.