Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Week in Review - 10/5/09

Faced with the choice of Melbourne Cinémathèque's screenings of Häxan and Master of the House and an invitation-only advance screening of teen Ozploitation flick, Prey, I chose the latter. Being a regular reader of co-producer, Bobby Galinsky's blog, The Way It Is, I pretty much guessed what I was in for, and I wasn't far off the mark. High art, it is not, but it was a helluva lot of fun. While there's been no shortage of films to see, especially with new releases like Samson & Delilah (I have tickets to a screening this week) and The Baader Meinhof Complex, this was all I saw this week. Yes, only one film (I average four or more). As me mate Ned would say, such is life.

Prey (Oscar D'Roccstar, Australia, 2008)
I don't really have much interest in the politics or drama that happened behind the scenes in the making of this new Australian film. I've forgotten most of what I've been told or read online. All I know is a director was sacked and the name above is a pseudonym. The advance screening I attended was at the William Kerr Theatrette in Toorak, a small cinema (30 seats) used for media screenings and corporate events. As a dark and slightly dilapidated old mansion, it was the perfect venue for a teen horror exploitation flick.

The first sign that things were a little off kilter was when the gates were closed and I had to park my motorbike on the footpath. The presence of a creepy, beareded doorman who uttered only grunts and held the door-list pretty much confirmed that we were in for some kind of pre-screening theatrics. First we had to wait while outside in the dark as the number of attendees inevitably swelled. Allowed entry in dribs and drabs meant we walked the length of the long uphill driveway in the dark, passing near an ominous axeman chopping wood with lightning-like flashing in the background. There were other creepy characters and it all created a mood and an air of expectation.

Bobby Galinsky introduced the film, describing what the intention was: basically a relatively small project with his co-producing partner, Elizabeth Howatt-Jackman, that aims to inject a bit of fun into the cinema experience, not high art, call it a cross between Twin Peaks and Picnic at Hanging Rock (with tongue planted firmly between his cheeks on that one). He also gave a short history of how the film's cast was assembled, most notably the leads, Natalie Bassingthwaighte and Jesse Johnson (whose father is Don, of Miami Vice fame).

The advance screening was preceded by a sizable number of trailers for other films, like The Exorcist and The Fly. It was a good device, similar to Grindhouse, though in this case the trailers were for actual films. It set the mood and created an expectation of what we were in for. If anything, there was one or two too many, and after a while I just wanted the film to commence.

I don't propose to say much about the plot; check out Anthony Morris' review at It's Better in the Dark for that. There's not a whole lot of plot in fact, which is kinda besides the point. This is Ozploitation. It's cheap, it's tacky, it's ridiculous, in fact it's downright trashy. Anthony pretty much says as much and didn't like it. I loved it - I laughed nearly as much as I did at Grindhouse (Planet Terror and Death Proof).

The film makes no secret of it's failings and works both in spite of them and, in some cases, because of them. Like the scene where we see three cars driving in the bush, and there's only enough people for two. What the fuck! There's a phantom driver? I dunno, it didn't really matter. This is a film laden with self-conscious clichés: zombies, lesbian love and a shower scene with the lovely Bassingthwaighte.

Prey has a two week cinema release - at the George in St. Kilda - starting last Friday before it goes straight to DVD. Apparently it's also getting a limited US release from July. I hope it does OK at the George; I think the typically young audience there should 'get' the film. It has an MA15+ classification - Galinsky says it's aimed at the 12-25yo market, so under 15's need to find a big brother or sister to pretend they're a parent.

I know in this country we're always foretelling the end of cinema as we know it, that it can't get any worse. Then if we have one good film in a year, it's a renaissance. The last few years have seen the regurgitation of some pretty bland and bleak cinema that's had all the doomsayers out in chorus. As an aside, I don't think bleak is the problem - bleak stories can be very absorbing - rather, it's the blandness of the bleak stories we've had that's been keeping audiences away from local films. Prey is no answer to the ills of the industry, but it's part of a number of films we're seeing this year that are trying something different to that blandness. If nothing else, it's a lot of fun, completely throw-away cinema.

With Mary and Max, Sampson and Delilah and now Prey, could there be three more different films? And there's more to come, with Jane Campion's Bright Star, Steve Jacob's Disgrace and Tatia Rosenthal's $9.99. Renaissance anyone?

PS, talking of bleak, Alkinos Tsilimidos (my favourite Australian director) has his new film premiering at MIFF. Last I heard, it's called Blind Company, but that was a while ago.

PPS, check out Glenn's review of Prey at Stale Popcorn.

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