Australia! The land down under. Where the native floral and fauna wants to kill you, eat you and root you, likely in that order. Where just going outdoors in the daytime gives you cancer and getting to the nearest hospital might require a plane ride. Christmas happens in the Summertime. Yoghurt has more culture.

But that’s not quite true.

Australia is arguably home to the oldest, continuous, unique living culture in the world based on oral tradition and reverence for the land. And ever since White Europeans turned up they’ve done their best to wipe that culture out and exterminate the native people!

Refracted through this experience of centuries of institutional racism, misogyny and genocide, anthology flick Dark Place showcases five Aboriginal directors whose uniquely indigenous visions, while wildly uneven – both my favourite film of FrightFest (Perun Bonser’s The Shore) and, frankly, the most repellent (Bjorn Stewart’s Killer Native) – comfortably help fill out 75 lean, mean minutes.

Kicking off with Scout, a tale of trafficked indigenous women being used and abused for the pleasure of rich, old white men, Dark Place hits the ground running, with Kodie Bedford’s short working through familiar exploitation tropes without ever feeling exploitative as the women take their gruesome revenge on the white patriarchal society oppressing them.

If, like me and half the country, the global pandemic has played merry hell with your sleep patterns, Liam Phillips’ slow-burning chiller Foe won’t help as a young insomniac follows her therapist’s questionable suggestion to film herself sleeping leading to a Lynchian questioning of identity while Rob Braslin’s Vale Light gives us a young mother and daughter on the run and sleeping in their car after something happened. Settling in a new house, the weird middle-aged woman next door has plans for the daughter. And then that something they’re running from happens again. 

The penultimate film, The Shore, by far the best of the bunch, is a moody, near wordless expressionist take on the vampire, shot in crisp black-and-white, that’ll haunt you while the final film, Killer Native, is a repellently nasty slice of colonial folk horror that feels like one of Peter Jackson’s early splatterpunk exercises in poor taste, glorying in it’s gore.

By their very nature, anthologies are uneven, hit and miss, so it’s hard to give the film a cohesive score, but Dark Place hits more often than it misses, it’s twisted tales vibrant and thought-provoking, angry, and they signal the emergence of exciting new voices in Australian cinema.  

Arrow Video Frightfest Digital Review: Dark Place
4.0Overall Score
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