Writer/Director: Steven Kastrissios
Starring: Gëzim Rudi, Emiljano Palali, Suela Bako, Alesia Xhemalaj
Reviewed by: James Ackland
Playing a limited engagement at the DENDY NEWTOWN as part of A NIGHT OF HORROR FILM FESTIVAL
Tradition repeats. It’s the nature of tradition. Tradition persists and evolves. We hand them down. We don’t forget. In Albania the Kanun is a set of laws. They are passed down orally. Traditionally.
Honour, Hospitality, Right Conduct and Kin Loyalty
In a small Albanian town where malnourished dogs scavenge for scraps of food, where the sky moves with foreboding colour and the wind whispers like a curse. A family on the brink of losing their business become the focus for a mysterious clan, some say led by a Witch (Shtigra) high up in the overbearing mountains. All these traditional laws are tested in Bloodland.
Skender (Gëzim Rudi), father and owner of the local Butcher shop is struggling to make ends meet. Modern Albania is facing hard times. If they have one more month of underwhelming income they’ll lose the business. Add to that the imminent collapse of the family unit as his children are growing and looking for a better future elsewhere and his wife is dissatisfied with the life that has befallen her. In his frustration he provokes some vagrants who are stealing from this rubbish. This confrontation reignites a feud that at its core challenges the traditions held so dear, but that must be met in order to survive.
The Witch's litter of young, dirty and hungry children are sent out to haunt and taunt the family. Aiding to further divide and destroy the family who are already barely able to hold themselves together. Old tales of a Witch in the mountains are told and then told to be ignored. But the symptoms that befall the family cannot be explained, ghosts from the past resurface and it becomes clear that a curse is in play.
The thought of a Witch up high in the forested mountains, casting spells, watching through her coven of underlings is truly creepy. Like all good classic tales, the Witch's shadow is seeped over the land. It infects the soil and the souls of all around. This is masterfully captured in Bloodland. The windswept terrain of Albania is perfectly cast. From the decaying township to the black-Forest-esque mountains around Tirana, the effects on the town is bleak and cold.
The picture is mostly devoid of warmth. Stark and cold, the film only gets darker the further we journey up the mountain. Quick picture cuts add to the unsettling nature and some had me very nervous. Frames and actions half finished, teasing glimpses of shadows and movement.
Mixing tradition and multiple horror genre tropes fuels this Albania/Australia co-production. It seamlessly mixes the creepy supernatural with a home invasion movie. Only to quickly switch to a helpless rescue and revenge flick. Director Steven Kastrissios has balanced all these with a deft eye and ear. Following up from 2008's The Horseman, Kastrissios has created a very tense world with a hypnotic colour pallete and haunting edit style. Music and sound design also deserve a special mention. While the picture may be cold, it gets a whole lot colder with the addition of a truly chilly score and sound design. The near constant effects of wildlife and wind help shape this film to a felt starkness.
The cast provide a fantastic realistic performance here. Balancing Shame, paranoia and naivety and resolve. Gëzim Rudi as Skender is great at trying/failing to hold everything together. His pure frustration is understandable and relatable. Emiljano Palali as son Artan and Alesia Xhemalaj as daughter Iliriana provide the warmth that is their curiosity and desire to leave and grow. Suela Bako, mother and wife is powerful as matriarch Shpresa. Fully convincing and a character that you can , empathise with and pull for.
Keep an eye on Director Steven Kastrissios. He's sure to continue on an impressive journey!
Bloodland is playing at the Night of Horror Festival in the coming weeks.
DON'T MISS IT!
Writer/Dirctor: Dwayne Labbé
Producer: Aaran Creece
Director of Photography: Darrell Martin
Starring: Jacinta Stapleton, Tai Scrivener, Blackwood
Reviewed by: James Ackland
We’ve all made rash discussions with money, right? There’s always been times when you frivolously spend the last of your cash, which, you know you should use to keep the lights on or keep a can of spaghetti in the cupboard. But life is too short and we want that new record NOW! Or is that just me?....
In Dwayne Labbé’s MUSCLECAR: The Motion Picture, lead character Bambi is a woman after my own heart. Bambi (Jacinta Stapleton) has only one day to wait for funding to clear in order to finance a film that has been slowly working its way to production when an advert for a 1968 lipstick red and smoking hot Dodge Phoenix sidetracks her priorities. Her passion for hot cars instantly alters her priorities. She uses her last ten thousand dollars and starts a downward spiral that no film producer would want to happen. Oh, and then the worst news strikes. No funding, no film and a cash guzzling car that is all outta petrol!
Once Bambi acquires the coveted Phoenix the reality of running the beast sets in and the search for alternative fuel commences. Fossil fuels just aren’t worth it! In the age of electric cars and ride sharing we’re looking at more economical ways to travel and MUSCLECAR has cornered the market in innovation. Voodoo and a ridiculous blood/alcohol ratio are the perfect alternative fuel! Much like Stephen King’s Christine, the car takes over all aspects of Bambi’s life and her obsession quickly escalates to bloodlust and the need to get behind the wheel. But is the car the only obsession in the film? Bambi herself is a smart succubus who will use her own sexuality to achieve her goals. With a tongue firmly planted in its cheek, MUSCLECAR is heavy on dark humor and the ending hits with a South Park worthy “Did they just say THAT???!!!”.
Lead actors Jacinta Stapleton, Tai Scrivener and Blackwood are great. Armed with the knowledge that these characters are comic-book weirdos, they push the story forward and allow the humor and cheese to flow. The supporting cast is hilarious, half naked… fully naked… running around the inner west of Sydney. The location shooting alone would have been interesting to stumble upon.
Writer and director Dwyane Labbé, a fully accomplished animator with a credit list that will blow your mind, has crafted a rocking film! An obvious labor of love, he very deftly mixes his animation background, love of exploitation films and silliness to produce a very fun ride!
Running in just over an hour, MUSCLECAR sets its premise and doesn't waste time, it’s OZPLOTATION in the classiest way. It’s creatively stitched together with awesome animation sequences that add to the off-the-wall storytelling genre and certainly makes up for any moments that budget would not have allowed. Director of photography, Darrel Martin has shot the film wonderfully, with angles and lighting that paint it with grindhouse flair.
Trust me, the ending is so twisted that I was sweating while laughing. Grind on!!
MUSCLECAR will make its Sydney debut at the NIGHT OF HORROR FESTIVAL this December at the Dendy, Newtown.
And while you’re at it… go down to the Golden Barley hotel for a drink afterward. The film was shot there and is MY LOCAL! Nice!