An above-average riff on the reliable “hunting humans for sport” scenario that’s been around at least as far as 1932’s RKO thriller “The Most Dangerous Game,” “The Furies” marks a solid feature debut for Aussie writer-director Tony D’Aquino. A pacy tale about kidnapped women being butchered by mutant monstrosities while sickos pay to watch online, this well-produced Ozploitation effort has the heavy-duty gore to excite horror hounds and packs enough of a girl-power punch to avoid dismissal as just another misogynist slasher movie. Debuting in Asia at BiFan after screenings in Brussels Fantastic Festival and Edinburgh, these “Furies” are certain to be let loose at many more genre-related events, and also have a shot at theatrical exposure in Australia and beyond. Local release details are pending.
Crucial to the film rising above the ranks of horror also-rans is the outstanding central performance of Airlie Dodds, who impressed as a free-spirited temp teacher in the recent Austrlian comedy “Book Week.” Dodds plays it convincingly tough, terrified and tender by turns as Kayla, a sensible young student suffering from epilepsy.
Less convincing is the scripting of opening scenes in which Kayla falls out badly with lifelong bestie Maddie (Ebony Vagulans). Their furious argument erupts from almost nothing while Maddie is painting anti-patriarchy graffiti in a pedestrian tunnel. Viewers may still be wondering what all the fuss is about when both women are abducted by shadowy figures.
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D’Aquino’s screenplay improves sharply and never looks back once Kayla wakes up in a coffin-like box in the middle of a eucalyptus forest. Painted on the casket is “Beauty 6,” and unknowingly embedded in Kayla’s eye is a camera beaming her vision to watchers. Worse still, the remote location is surrounded by an electronic force field that will detonate explosives wired into participants’ brains should they attempt to escape.
Where there are beauties there must also be beasts. In this case, it’s an army of grotesque maniacs wielding all manner of nasty implements and individually programmed to eliminate a chosen victim. With names like “Melonhead,” “Rodface,” “Pigman” and “Babyface,” these creatures recall everything from the Cenobites of “Hellraiser” to “Halloween” heavy Michael Myers.
D’Aquino neatly weaves stalk-and-kill thrills with tense psychological drama. As Kayla meets imperiled women including Alice (Kaitlyn Boye), Sheena (Taylor Ferguson) and Sally (Harriet Davies), questions are raised as to who can be trusted and who may have figured out how to survive at the expense of others. The strongest and most satisfying relationship forms between Kayla and Rose (Linda Ngo), a nerve case who appears to have retreated to a child-like state.
The pace never slackens as Kayla battles epileptic fits and marauding beasts while protecting Rose, searching for Maddie and eventually piecing together a plan to outwit her captors. Though the finale feels a tad rushed, it hits the right visual and emotional notes and will likely satisfy most of the target audience.
All this mayhem is crisply filmed in widescreen by DP Garry Richards around Lake George (Weereewa in indigenous language), a vast endorheic basin near Canberra that’s rarely featured in Australian productions. In the film’s second half, excellent use is made of dilapidated houses and workshops that once served as a tourist attraction on the long-abandoned gold mines of nearby Bywong. The gruesome makeup effects by Scarecow Studios are likely to make even hardcore gorehounds gasp on several occasions. A thumping orchestral score by Kenneth Lampl and Kirsten Axelholm rounds out a production that’s technically polished on a modest budget.