It wouldn’t be FrightFest without a horror anthology, and this year its screening two of them during its first ever digital festival. First up is Dark Place, a collection of stories from Australian filmmakers and starring a largely indigenous cast to tell a quintet of local tales. The stories include kick-ass females, creepy sea creatures, sinister mind control, and an interesting Aborigine spin on zombies.
Like many anthologies, Dark Place is a mixed bag of stories, and whilst you might not enjoy all of them, there should be at least one that takes your fancy. Dark Place begins with Kodie Bedford’s Scout, a gritty, grisly, and expletive-fuelled twenty-something minutes that delves into the seedy world of sex workers. It tells the story of three women all locked up together, and their varying views on their situation. All three have been taken against their will and are wheeled out to entertain various men that appear. These men don’t count on an uprising though, as these females reclaim their freedom in a euphorically violent way. It’s a great opener to the anthology, and definitely serves to grab your attention. This is followed by Foe, directed by Liam Phiilip, a film about a sleep-deprived woman teetering on the edge of her sanity. It’s much slower in pace that Scout, but Phillip uses that pace to imbue the story with a ton of suspense.
The third story, Vale Light, directed by Rob Braslin, is my personal favourite and follows a single mother and her child as they move house after an unfortunate accident at their previous abode. They soon discover an alarming secret about their new neighbour, one that shares a terrifying link to them. Vale Light is a fantastic little short with an effective air of mystery, and a well-executed reveal. The penultimate tale, The Shore, once again changes pace; director Perun Bonser constructs an atmospheric, and almost poetic, tale of a woman and sea creature. Dark Place then ends with Bjorn Stewart’s Killer Native, which completely changes the tone of the whole film as it plays heavily for laughs with its slapstick splatter-filled story. It’s a fun watch, and sees the film out with a bang, but does seem at odds with the other four shorts. The four proceeding tales all have a much more serious tone and the sudden swerve into all-out humour is a little hard to manage.
Typically anthologies tend to have a linking device between their stories, be that a wrap-around narrative that helps connect them, or simply a new chapter in a book etc. Dark Place however, opts for neither and instead each tale simply follows on from the last. This decision makes the film feel less like a cohesive collection of stories within a film and more like you’re watching one of FrightFest’s famed Short Film Showcases. The only real link through each short is their use of indigenous actors, something that demonstrates a great step forwards for diversity. Each story also heavily features central female characters, another positive progression.
Dark Place may lack full tonal cohesion, but is still an entertaining collection of shorts from Australia’s next generation of genre filmmakers.
Dark Place was reviewed at Arrow Video FrightFest 2020.
An entertaining journey through some of Australia’s next big genre stars.