The Stranger (2022): Crime/Drama/Thriller

An ostensibly random encounter turns into an elaborative secret operation against a prime suspect of a heinous crime.

Slow-burn, dark, compelling, and different! The Australian filmmaking school at its best! The introduction, disclosure, and development of Mark and Henry will blow you out of the water. This is the character development that film schools refer to. Who they were in the first act and who they are revealed to be in the end will keep applying constant pressure against your chest. By unfolding these characters along with the mission’s extent and nature, writer/director Thomas M. Wright creates a mixture that slowly and mentally painfully comes closer and closer to imploding. The charismatic thespians Joel Edgerton and Sean Harris put heart and soul into their characters and, while I usually say “shine” in front of the camera, in this instance, they put life’s light out, hence that constant pressure on your chest. Jada Alberts’ performance immensely contributes to the deprivation of the human psyche’s light.

There is not a lot I can say without ruining the experience for you so I can only urge you to turn off your lights and put your phones on silent to enjoy an incredible Australian cinematic experience. The script is solid, the editing converts the story into an intricate plot, and everything you get to know, you get to know it when you need to and not when you want to. Interestingly, what you don’t get to know is hinted at or implied, leaving it up to you to interpret it – the polar opposite of what Hollywood offers.

The beginning, as well as the ending, are visual poetry. The narrated images serve as an expression of feelings that eerily initiate and befittingly conclude this journey. Based on the book by Katie Kyriacou and a real-life haunting case, Wright creates a dark and heavy-on-the-soul masterpiece that, once seen, will not be easily forgotten.

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Solidarity for Ukraine 🇺🇦 🙏

Stay safe!

These Final Hours (2013): Drama/Sci-fi/Thriller

With only a few hours left before the end of the world, a man needs to decide where his consciousness lies.

Impactful and soul-wrenching apocalyptic indie drama! Right off the bat, the end is nigh! The comet has hit the Earth, half of the world is already gone, and Perth is the last place the firestorm is going to hit! James’ last journey to redemption is also our tour to the end of humanity. The comet may be the one that kills the planet, but it seems that humanity has died way before that. The journey consists of violence, amorality, guns, drugs, partying, death aplenty, and… maybe hope, right before it dries up. Twelve hours to a destination that, in this case, it actually matters as much as the journey itself.

The film’s quality shows in all three stages of production. The script is solid, the mise-en-scene is thoroughly meticulous from beginning till end, and the editing moves the story forward by pacing it, keeping the interest always at peak level – excellent use of flashbacks. Writer/director Zak Hilditch incredibly utilises his small budget, investing it in an apocalyptic drama that reveals the hair-raising nature of ours, but also the one that makes us proud of the tiny little things we have or we can achieve in life… even right before death.

Nathan Phillips, Angourie Rice, Jessica De Gouw and Kathryn Beck deserve a massive round of applause for their incredible performances that bring to life characters that go through an unfathomable situation. The end of the world is something that we may not be thinking about seriously but These Final Hours is a nightmare but also food for thought for all of us. The Australian cinema has proved time and time again that it can deliver gripping and gruesome dramas and horrors, and this one is no exception.

Stay safe!

Better Watch Out (2017): Comedy/Horror/Thriller

When the parents decide to have a Christmas night out, they hire a babysitter for their teenage boy, but what seems to be a home invasion will make their night a living hell.

The Christmas horror for the whole (15 and over) family. Expect something like Home Alone (1990) meets The Babysitter (2017). The premise, at first, is simple. The parents want to have a Christmas night out, they hire the neighbourhood’s beautiful girl to babysit their teenage boy, they leave, and not long after, a home invasion shakes them to their core. From what I see, IMDb doesn’t disclose much, if anything, so, I’ll make it deliberately generic, and keep it as well spoilers-free.

Very well structured both in terms of script and execution. In less than ten minutes, every character has been introduced as well as the house with all its rooms. The inciting incident is very well disguised and when it reveals itself, it shocks! From then on, there is a roller coaster of incidents that take place one after the other in a synchronised manner, not very well timed to keep it real, not too messy to confuse. Overall, in less than an hour and a half, Better Watch Out brutally entertains, horrifies, and leaves you in the end with wanting some more. Olivia DeJonge, Levi Miller, and Ed Oxenbould have an amazing chemistry between them and shine in front of the camera. I wish I could say more, but I will stop here.

Behind the camera, writer Zach Kahn and writer/director Chris Peckover create the kind of mixed genre that I particularly like. Comedy/horror is not easy to make. To be able to scare someone but also make them laugh takes a lot of consideration and preparation as these are polar opposite feelings. And to blend them into a film, especially involving kids, imposes a risk to the filmmakers when pitching such a project to the producers and distributors. Why? The target audience is not clear to them which means that it will potentially be unclear to the audience too. And from what I read, it didn’t do particularly well. But don’t be alarmed by that. As I’ve said before a few times, especially this time of the year, this is the kind of fictional excitement we need from the comfort of our couch. The one outdoors is definitely the one that we neither want nor need.

I very much hope you enjoy it, as well as this festive period.

Stay safe!

P.S. Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould play brother and sister in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit (2015).

Relic (2020): Drama / Horror

When an old lady is reported missing, her daughter and granddaughter rush to her house only to find her along with a malevolent entity that also dwells in the house.

It all starts with Natalie Erika James’ and Christian White’s amazing script and ends with James’ exceptional directing. Charlie Sarroff’s claustrophobic cinematography will cut your breath short and the hair-raising performances by Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, and Bella Heathcote will make you feel how they feel. Nevin, especially, makes one hell of a scary grandma that will crawl under your skin.

The film’s gut-wrenching psychological horror is the outcome of the fictional paranoia which directly derives from a real-life, agonising drama. It is the terror of what happens to so many people when they grow old while all of us wish that it is not us that it will happen to. And you would never guess who’s wearing the producer’s hat on this one. Jake Gyllenhaal and the Russo Brothers. Who would know…

Relic is a bone-chilling, metaphorical horror/drama, following (thankfully) no Hollywood narrative, offering no easy way outs, no glorified, ephemeral pseudo-heroes, and no cheap jump-scares. It is the proud representation of Australia’s film school. A school that teaches how to think outside the box and make films as harsh as life itself.

Angel of Mine (2019): Drama / Mystery / Thriller

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Years after losing her daughter in a fire, a woman’s mental state takes a turn for the worse when she starts thinking that she is still alive.
Have you ever started watching a film not knowing anything about it other than something, down the line, somewhere is going to really go sideways and you just don’t know what that is?

Well, Angel of Mine happens to be one of them. A constant agony of what Lizzie (Noomi Rapace) is gonna totally screw up to the highest degree. The success of the film relies on that and it does indeed achieve it. Part of the reason is because kids are involved and part of it is because adults like her are involved.

As the slow-burn escalates, while nothing really substantial happens, you won’t stop wondering how far is she gonna take it?! And then it’s the ending… but I’m gonna leave that up to you. My only comment is that Fatal Attraction (1987) was that successful because of that kind of escalation; that climax. Anyhow, congratulations to both Noomi Rapace and Yvonne Strahovski for their remarkable performances.

Over the years I have convinced myself that a film should not have a single mood from the beginning till the end. Angel of Mine is unsettling and dead creepy throughout. And even though that’s not a plus, the abyss of the human mind, the vastness of its capabilities, the infinite goodness, but also its unfathomable limits to cause pain in any shape or form can be terrifying.

Stay safe!

Upgrade (2018): Action / Sci-fi / Thriller

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In a world that technology controls every aspect of life, a technophobe not only finally embraces it but also upgrades himself to solve his wife’s murder.

Producer/Writer/Director Leigh Whannell, who penned the script for Saw (2004), and Blumhouse Productions bring to life an action/thriller that mustn’t go unnoticed. Logan Marshall-Green gets into the role and does a brilliant job as an ordinary man who’s going through… an upgrade and comes out extraordinary.

Visual effects that help the story move forward and the story itself easily avoids cliches and gimmicks. A highly recommended, low-budget sci-fi set in an ostensibly utopian future but with a lot more realism than meets the eye.

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2MyBAww

Boy Erased (2018): Biography / Drama

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A boy is sent by his parents to a church-supportive gay conversion program after revealing to them that he has “impure” thoughts about men.

Joel Edgerton proves time and time again that he was born and destined to be both in front and behind the camera. A fine addition and a major representative of the Australian film school.

The film: Garrard Conley’s heartfelt memoir is masterfully adapted for the big screen with nothing but emotion, sensitivity, honesty, and courage. Nicole Kidman, Russel Crowe, and Lucas Hedges give amazing performances, become mother, father and son, and open their house’s door for you to experience the suffering of their family’s drama. Non-linearly narrated, Boy Erased seems to be slightly holding its punches but delivers a clear message and puts the situation into perspective, establishing the backward, medieval, and shameless position of the church in the 21st century.

Life: Boy Erased is a drama that countless families across the globe face every year and, in their despair, they rely on a higher power to give them an answer to a natural, conscious choice that poses no question. The diversity of homosexual personalities, idiosyncrasies, quirks, and foibles extends as far as the heterosexuals’, the “normal”. And to this very day, men of science try to contextualise the “gay gene” – good luck isolating it from the “straight” one! And certain men of the cloth, and followers of an organisation, whose knowledge of the world is summarised in a fictitious book that is divorced from reality, want to cast out the “demon of homosexuality”.

Do we believe in God or do we believe in what others interpret of what God is? I remember being taught Jesus saying “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone”. But for the life of me, I can’t remember been taught about Him condemning homosexuality. We are soon entering the third decade of the 21st century, and by now, the State and the pharisaic Church should have been distinctively separated.

God is not to be blamed here. He Himself (is it ‘him’?) is the victim and sad creator of our decadent species. But there is still faith that the minorities in this world, who strive to make a difference, regardless of their age, gender, IQ, ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation, and religious beliefs will one day grow more… and more… and more… and will dethrone archaic establishments, status quos, and organisations that have been ruling since the dawn of time. And “issues” such as homosexuality will stop being treated as “witch hunt”, will become accepted and, hopefully, soon after, will be taken as a matter of course where no one could care less.

And to quote the late Curt Cobain: “I am not gay, although I wish I were, just to piss off homophobes”.

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2QlSK1G

Snowtown (2011): Biography / Crime / Drama

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A few years ago, my really good friend Ben and I, sat down, ordered Chinese, and put “Snowtown” on. By the time food arrived, none of us were hungry and for the whole duration of the film, we didn’t say a word to each other. Damn, we barely spoke after…

There are some depressing films out there. Then there are some very depressing ones, extremely depressing ones… and then there is “Snowtown”! Based on the “bodies in the barrels” truly horrible, infamous murders, Justin Kurzel’s lens captures and depicts torture and murder like you’ve never seen before – and probably never will. Lacking – deliberately – artistic charisma,  “Snowtown’s” realism is unsettling as much as it is disturbing, projecting pure, raw violence as it is.

This is not just another film on serial killers. This is “Snowtown” on serial killers in Australia by Justin Kurzel! Where antiheroes and villains are valued less than dogshit! Where barbarity, savagery, and sadism are at their zenith! Where the “bathtub strangulation”, the “dog and the gun”, and the “brothers having a fight” sequences stay imprinted in your brain for eons!

Congratulations to the actors and actresses for delivering “despicable” amazingly!

You’ve been warned!

P.S. Do I recommend it? Definitely!!!

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2PYN3HR

The Rover (2014): Action / Crime / Drama

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Wipe Hollywood completely out of Mad Max, and you get David Michôd’s post-apocalyptic Rover. This desolated Australia manages to crawl under every antihero’s skin and plant the seed of isolation and fear of their already existing despair.

In this endless pitch-black tunnel, a light shines upon the most unlikely friendship between furious Eric (Guy Pearce) and mentally vulnerable Rey (Robert Pattinson). A light that comes from the abyss of their soul, indicating that, even though everything has gone awry, the tide can still change.

Australian cinema is relentless as much as it is beautiful. And with producer/writer / director David Michôd and writer Joel Edgerton you know that it can only be relentlessly beautiful. Guy Pearce has always been spectacular which leaves us at the end with…

Robert Pattinson! A script has a main philosophy: Show, don’t tell! Robert Pattinson doesn’t say a word. He shows, having nothing to prove, that he is an actor. As if “Remember Me” (2010) was not evident enough, “The Rover” rubs it in haters’ faces.

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2StRHj1

Animal Kingdom (2010): Crime / Drama

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A cinematic achievement from writer/director David Michôd that will keep you engaged from the opening scene to the end credits. In front of the camera, Detective Guy Pearce and the not so beloved and highly dysfunctional Cody family, Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Jackie Weaver, James Frecheville, Luke Ford, and Sullivan Stapleton, perform magic and take us back to some of the Melbourne crime scenes of the ’80s.

“Animal Kingdom”, a realistic crime/drama, straight out of the genuine Australian film school that always appeals to the deepest human emotions, is true to its genres and honest to its execution. A film that earned its stripes, gave prominence to actors and crew, got nominations all over the world and, unarguably, dominated at the AFI.

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2tMRNYu

On The Beach (2000): Drama, Sci-Fi

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Almost 15 years ago, late at night, I watched it in my basement (drinking and smoking) and, in the end, three hours+ later, plastered, I was left wondering “is anyone alive”??? Over three hours of the perfect balance between world scale and personal drama/suffering that will depress and haunt you at the same time. Don’t be afraid of getting sucked into what could be the end of mankind.

P.S. I tried to watch it sober last month again – got sauced halfway there.

P.P.S. At least I’ve quit smoking…