Teenagers love horror films and I partook my fair share as a kid. Around about the time a friend dragged me to Hostel I found I’d had my fill and was over the genre. In that time while the gore carried less impact the cruelty of the films and some of the poor writing pointed me in the opposite direction at 23. I was 18 when the original The Blair Witch Project came out. I’d been sitting around camp fires as a Cub Scout for years hearing ghost stories before venturing back through dark woods in the middle of the night with older boys playing pranks and rattling my tent. You stare into shadows long enough and they move. Children tucked up in their beds at night know this and in the shadows anything can be lurking.
The Blair Witch Project knew the power of these truths, despite the genius of its marketing at the dawn of the internet which lead people to believe it was footage of people who had actually gone missing its real power was not in the highly effective marketing but in recognising these truths. By the time the film reached Australian shores we knew the cast were safe and sound but the power of imagination and fear of the unseen still remained the real drawing card of the film. The tale of a witch strung up by townsfolk in the woods 200 hundred years ago pulling her limbs to new deformed lengths is a good ghost story. Another story about children missing in those woods years later or a man being instructed to kill in the 1940s in a cabin that nobody can found out in the forest is another. The premise of The Blair Witch is as strong as that of Freddy or Jason. Another strength of the original was the limitations of then hi-tech video cameras. Night vision and low light can only do so much, point and shoot into the woods and things will come into focus slowly. What are those low grey dots in the haze? The end of branches or two eyes looking at you? Two eyes of a creature that you do not want to meet. Your mind can terrify you more than any gore or jump scare. Filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez knew this and they made what was at the time a surprisingly effective low budget horror film. Found footage films no doubt had existed before this but this effectively kicked off the modern era and after Australia’s Mad Max had held the world record for budget versus gross for two decades The Blair Witch Project unseated it costing $35,000 for principal shooting and editing and grossing $246 million dollars. A sequel followed the following year but failed to meet the same acclaim and the series slowly languished as time went on until now.
Blair Witch directed by Adam Wingard sets the film years later where the younger brother James (James Allen McCune) of film student Heather Donahue who went missing in the original film’s events is investigating whether she could still be alive. New footage has been unearthed from Burkittsville locals Talia (Valorie Curry) and Lane (Wes Robinson) and he sets off with friends Peter (Brandon Scott), Ashley (Corbin Reid) including film student Lisa Arlington (Callie Hernandez) to hike through the woods to try and find some answers. What could possibly go wrong?
Blair Witch follows the plot of The Blair Witch Project very closely. We are introduced to these people and see them joking around and preparing for a bit of an adventure. They descend into the woods and are disturbed at night by continually escalating weirdness as their group dynamics break down. This slow burn building of dread and plot while also allowing time to get to know the characters is commendable but only if the characters are really likeable and the dread is unpredictable. Those unfamiliar with the original may get a lot out of this bit and interestingly enough as the third act begins small uses of CGI became apparent. While still being shot on digital cameras and remaining low key sequences include giant old oak trees collapsing, tents flying high into the air and shadowy figures lurking in the background scurrying across walls.
While not bringing anything truly original besides some better production values this is a respectable enough attempt at a sequel. The performances are good and there is some variations with the use of new technology like drone cameras and bluetooths. Was I scared? Yes and even more so after the film when I strolled around my house late at night and suddenly noticed the dark shadows in the corners when I turned out some lights.
Mad Max: Fury Road arrives with a bang easily the best blockbuster of the whole American summer. Like a howling breath of fresh air for the action genre, this fourth entry in the franchise both paradoxically shows how films could be shot going forward and revels in old school practicality. George Miller at 70 has led a cast and crew of all ages in the reinvention of a franchise and a genre with the kind of energy and zeal a man half of his years would shudder to muster.
Skipping an origin story with what is effectively a reboot we are plunged head first into this dystopian post-apocalyptic world with little water or petrol. Reducing all back to tribal loyalties and feudal pecking orders, those with muscle are the ones who wield power. Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) himself is a man with capable skills and physicality but is subject to attack due to his loner status. His vulnerability shown up in the opening scenes where wandering the desert he is chased and captured by a group of thugs and taken to The Citadel where dictator Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) rules supreme. Tellingly Max and Joe never meet, Max even following an escape attempt is never seen as truly remarkable but strung up to be used as a blood donor.
The lead character is arguably not even Max but Imperator Furiousa played by Charlize Theron who serves Joe as his best convoy driver for fuel or ammunition runs in her War Rig semi-trailer truck. Furiousa hides a secret though, she was taken as a child from a more peaceful place and she is planning her escape to get back there and to take with her the young healthy women that Immortan Joe has taken for his brides.
The film is effectively a chase film with character motivations and interactions taking place often on the run. Yet the story is deceptively deep as Immortan Joe clearly at the end of his life prizes women to possibly breed healthy children as more important than how many guns and wealth he can acquire. One powerful shot shows a pregnant woman placing her belly in front of Furiosa rendering a gun toting Joe impotent to fire.
Tom Hardy has always created tremendous physical presences in his films and he is no different here but his Max is a little chattier than Mel Gibson’s. Nonetheless he till mostly grunts through the film and like previous efforts, Hardy nicely conveys the theme of Max learning to co-exist and even rely on others. Charlize Theron packed on 9 kilograms of muscle to her frame for the film and here covered in grease and rags with a mechanical arm she is the most beautiful thing in the film. Conveying so much with glances from her shining green eyes she is unequivocally a fucking movie star but also one of the best actresses working today. Being liberated are the Five Wives some played by former models who all convey subtle personality traits that define each of their characters and make them all unique. Nicholas Hoult portrays a War Boy named Nux originally loyal to Immortan Joe and eager to die a glorious death hunting down Furiosa. He has possibly the biggest arc as a character and Hoult conveys a growing revelation that War Boy has always wanted to be liked and have friends. This need and its lack of gratification shows up the harshness of his world.
The music could be my favourite score of the year, certainly of any blockbuster. So much thought has gone into production design right down to things that may not even appear on screen in terms of gear sticks and interiors of certain vehicles. Such details inform about the characters reflecting their personalities and status as well as how they live. While a stunning array of real stunts were performed in shot, various rigs and wires are CGI’d out and the palette of the colours has been dramatically changed in post. It creates an epic new look for the film not dissimilar to comics and distancing the film from the original trilogy to stand on its own.
Special shout out to this film’s Supervising Stunt Coordinator Guy Norris who performed many stunts on Mad Max 2 most famous of which was the bicycle stunt when he flipped over several times in mid-air after a crash and broke his femur. Now 54, Norris book ended the stunts of this film by first rolling Max’s Interceptor as seen in the trailers and at the end of filming driving a sixteen wheeler truck into the wreck of another at 60 miles per hour. Cinematographer John Seale also came out of retirement to do this film and his work is magnificent.
George Miller is making the best use of all modern technology can afford him but he has wisely foreseen that there is a growing recognition to feature women as more than love interests in genre pictures on a regular basis and that nothing beats the thrill of real stunts in an action film. This is a great movie.