Dark Place (2019)


Image from Killer Native via miff.com.au


Dark Place is an anthology of short, horror films by Australian Indigenous filmmakers and it’s an indictment of Australia that they don’t need to exaggerate reality much for it to be horror.

Each film lasts around 15 minutes and they differ in style although there is a commonality with their varying analogies of contemporary and historic racism.

Kodie Bedford’s Scout starts with a jump scare as the title character (Katherine Bennett) is snatched from her house but quickly plunges into a dark and all too real world of women kidnapped and kept as sex slaves. They are referred to as ‘gins’, a clear reference to an archaic and pejorative term for Aboriginal women from Australia’s colonial past. As one of the women says “There are no white feminists marching in your name when a black woman goes missing.” The shown and implied violence is strong and the ending nicely cathartic, although I couldn’t help thinking “Take the coat! You’ll be cold!”

Foe, directed by Liam Phillips, is set almost entirely in the home of a young woman (Leonie Whyman) as she battles with sleep problems. After regularly waking feeling tired, her doctor prescribes sleeping pills and suggests she acknowledge the grief she is carrying. The grief is never spelled out but it could be for family or culture or Country. Filming herself at night, the woman finds she is sleepwalking and goes to extreme lengths to stop it. This one is suspenseful rather than gory and is enigmatic in its purpose and resolution.

Vale Light, directed by Rob Braslin, opens with an instantly placeable view of the zinc smelter up river in Hobart. It sets a scene of suburban displacement as young mum, Shae (Tasia Zalar), moves into a house after living in her car with her daughter Isabelle (Jolie Everett). The white lady next door, Diane (Sara Pensalfini), seems a bit prim and disapproving but comes to Shae’s help when friends outstay their welcome at a housewarming party. Diane, as is immediately obvious, is not what she seems and Shae is forced to confront more than just some benign racism. There’s a bit of gore in this but it’s mainly about the suspense. Zalar and Everett are the highlights, convincing in their mother daughter relationship and their many strengths and weaknesses.

The Shore, directed by Perun Bonser, is a bit more sophisticated in its visuals and story, opting for atmospheric black-and-white and a more ambiguous narrative that hides as much as it shows. A girl (Luka May Glynn-Cole) in an isolated hut tends an injured man (Bernard Curry) who may or may not be her father. He may or may not be dead. She may or may not be what she seems.

The gore is in black-and-white and so is relatively artistic. I couldn’t help wondering if the blood splatter on the girls face with chocolate sauce as per cycle. There are some nice visuals in what is an enigmatic look at place and perhaps family.

Björn Stewart’s Killer Native uses black comedy and a knowing modern sensibility to poke fun at its colonial story. A couple (Charlie Garber and Lily Sullivan) climb out of a boat on a river bank and claim land as their own by hammering in a stick and proclaiming it their land. It’s the ‘stick rule’. A monster is lurking, though, and the couple are so blinded by racism and entitlement that they don’t listen to a helpful Aboriginal man (Clarence Ryan).

The obvious artifice of the setup – synthesiser music and cheesy caricatures – encourages laughter at some very serious themes and we are somewhat mollified by the violence of the story’s resolution. It seems wrong to laugh but comedy is a great way to engage a broad audience and those most in need of a better perspective on endemic racism, entitlement and oppression.

Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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