Frightfest 2020 review: Dark Place
Australian anthology horror exploring the post-colonial experiences of the indigenous population
Written by Nikki Baughan
Exploring the real-world horrors faced by Australia’s indigenous population at the hands of colonialist marauders, Dark Place is an intriguing anthology which serves up a timely history lesson along with some crowd-pleasing shocks. As is usual with such a piece, some of the shorts hit higher notes than other — although all show promise by their young Antipodean writer/directors.
Best of the bunch is Perun Bonser’s The Shore, which plays fourth out of the five segments. The only one to be filmed in black and white by Hungarian cinematographer Laszlo Baranyai (who, in fact, shoots all five of the shorts on display here), and with an experimental, expressionist feel, its virtually dialogue-free narrative concerns a young woman (Luka May Glynn-Cole) defending her rural home against vampiric zombie creatures (including her parents) and fighting her own increasing bloodlust. It plays beautifully on the white man’s fear of the “savage native”, that primeval dangers lurk in the wilderness of the Outback, and the land will easily overwhelm and corrupt if you let down your guard.
Other filmmakers choose to approach these theme of prejudice, violence and injustice in very different ways. Kodie Bedford’s visceral opener Scout follows its eponymous indigenous heroine (Katherine Bennett) as she turns the tables on the wealthy white men who have imprisoned her and others for their own masochistic entertainment. Help certainly isn’t coming from anywhere else; these women are disposable, forgotten and worthless to all but themselves.
Liam Phillips chooses to look inwards with his slow-burning Foe, which sees a woman (Leonie Whyman) suffering from a sleep disorder which, she comes to understand, may be linked to deeply buried feelings about her family history. Rob Braslin’s Vale Light similarly takes place in a domestic setting, following a young indigenous mother (Tasia Zalar) who becomes the target of a duplicitous middle-class white saviour on a modern housing estate.
In contrast, the climactic Killer Native, from Bjorn Stewart, plays like a frenzied period drama, in which a 19th century couple (Lily Sullivan and Charlie Garber) who arrive in the Outback in search of a new life are beset by plague-ridden Aboriginal zombies — who, it transpires, have been infected with diseases brought by the white settlers. A farcical blood-spattered comedy horror at stark odds with its fellow straight-faced shorts, it nevertheless has a powerful message.
A solid, cohesive anthology horror, Dark Place works best as a showcase for a new generation of Australian horror talent, who all successfully distill generations of experience, tradition and oppression into short, sharp narratives that leave their mark.
Directors: Kodie Bedford, Liam Phillips, Rob Braslin, Perun Bonser, Bjorn Stewart Screenwriters: Kodie Bedford, Liam Phillips, Rob Braslin, Perun Bonser, Bjorn Stewart
Cast: Katherine Bennett, Leonie Whyman, Tasia Zalar, Luka May Glynn-Cole, Lily Sullivan Distributor: TBC
Running Time: 75 mins