From the success of the After Dark HorrorFest (also known as "8 Films to Die For"), the After Dark Company launched After Dark Originals in 2010. The aim of After Dark Originals is to release a series of new, cutting-edge films that span the horror genre. Or, to quote the webpage, create "A New Brand of Fear."
Now After Dark Originals, in partnership with Paramount Home Entertainment and Transmission Films, is making their debut in Australia. For this, a special screening was held at Sydney's Chauvel Cinema, where two of the films from the After Dark Originals stable were shown: Seconds Apart and Husk.
Seconds Apart (Dir: Antonio Negret/USA/2011)
Starting with a teen party, four male students, swapping stories of their conquests, partake in a tense game of Russian roulette where everyone loses. From this attention-grabbing beginning we follow Detective Lampkin as he attempts to make sense of such a tragedy. The detective is dealing with a number of his own personal demons following the death of his wife, and has developed a taste for literature and philosophy. While interviewing students who were at the party, his attention is directed to twins Seth and Jonah, whom he believes are somehow involved. The twins seem to exist in a parallel world, unmoved by the deaths and cold and distant from those around them. The twins are working on an unnamed project, involving them making a film, but the project's true intent is much darker. Even the twins' parents are caught up in this strange reality that surrounds the two boys, displaying no interest in the world outside of their home. Tension between the two boys escalates when new female student Eve enters their world and feelings begin to develop between her and Jonah. This conflict leads to the twins facing off against one another in a struggle for control for their own lives.
Stylistically this is an accomplished film, with high production values evident in the detailed sets, the camera work, with a good balance of hand-held and sweeping tracking shots. The overall feel of the film is one of suspense and the use of grey helps create a feeling of dread. However, that is about as far as it goes. After the initial burst from the scene involving the game of Russian roulette, there are not a lot of shocks on offer and hardly any scary moments. Any shocks that do occur are the result of the overbearing soundtrack more than the development of tension.
The performances of the actors are solid throughout. Pity then that they have little to work with and the characters they play all feel familiar and clichéd. The use of twins as evil is overly familiar, similarly with the Detective with the troubled past. The character of Eve serves mostly as a vehicle to manufacture a rift between the twins. There is limited substance and this makes them difficult to relate to. The limited development of the characters equates to them all feeling like they are being used to hurriedly reach the conclusion. The time has not been taken to adequately develop the characters so that when the conclusion comes the audience can connect and emote with what is happening on screen. They simply exist solely as a means to an end rather than having any substance of their own.
The conclusion is nicely handled, with a solid twist that adds an extra layer to the whole parallel world that is believed to be inhabited by twins. The twist itself is not signposted in the rest of the film, with only the subtlest hints used, but is not particularly surprising either. An average film that looks good with solid performances, but the story itself feels weighed down by formulaic characters and plot points.
Husk (Dir: Brett Simmons/USA/2011)
A group of five friends (Scott, Brian, Chris, Natalie-played by Tammin Sursok-and Johnny) are driving a deserted stretch of road surrounded by fields of corn when the windscreen is attacked by a number of crows. This forces them to crash and end up in a ditch on the side of the road. The occupants are briefly unconscious and when they come to, realise that Johnny is missing. Unable to make contact with the outside world, and their car wrecked, they decide to head through the cornfield to the farmhouse that is located nearby. The friends quickly realise that there is something not right and that there is someone or something out in the corn that wants to do them harm. When the bodies start to pile up, sheltering in the farmhouse, the remaining friends struggle to not only survive the night, but also determine the mystery behind why they are being killed.
Hard to go too far wrong with a mixture of stranded people, cornfields, isolated farmhouse and creepy looking scarecrows. This is a fun feature, even if this is more by-the-numbers college-kids in peril-from-the-mysterious-killer. The film makes effective use of the environment, with the cornfields creating a strong sense of claustrophobia, sounding and looking menacing. The deserted farmhouse is lifted straight from rural slasher films 101; crows land and keep watch, seeming to know more than any crow rightly should, although they add nothing to the actual plot.
There are plenty of well-handled scenes that create a strong sense of tension, particularly in the first half of the film. The sequence where the character of Natalie makes her way back to the farmhouse after being attacked by a scarecrow is a highlight. Once the movie provides its own logic for why things are occurring, the tension dissipates significantly and becomes somewhat predictable. The pursuit through the darkened cornfields then makes for the main highlight towards the end of the film.
The characters are well-presented, albeit with limited back stories. They act in the usual why did they do that manner, and it is not obvious who the last one standing will be. The scarecrow-killer is similarly thin on explanation, and the supernatural element definitely provides a good twist, and the method of adding to his scarecrow family is a clever device. Just don't think about it too hard.
This is an entertaining film, even if the gore is rather light on, with a couple of exceptions. There are plenty of holes in the narrative and some superfluous elements, like the unexplained flashbacks experienced by one of the characters that attempt to provide some sort of back-story to the killer scarecrow. However the pace is kept up for most of the running time. While dark in places, the attacks in the cornfields are well-done and make effective use of the location. Without being exceptional, this is one to watch to while away an afternoon.
After Dark Originals have been prolific in their output and this is evident in their films with varying degrees of quality. They have an ambitious agenda and it is good to see that they have taken the time to have an official launch and put on a night like this. Seeing horror films in cinema is an experience that is becoming increasingly difficult to come by, and let's hope that nights like this are repeated in the future. With some tightening, focussing more on quality rather than quantity, After Dark Originals could prove to live up to their name.