Thursday, 29 January 2015

Movie Review: The Quarantine Hauntings (2015)

Even with a couple of interactive movie screenings under my belt, this ranks up there as one of the most surreal cinema experiences I’ve had yet even if it wasn’t intentional. Given how this is a film based around a local legend, centered on one of the more popular haunted locations in Australia, I knew that this was going to be a true-blue local production. What I didn’t know was that some of the actors, as well as both of the film’s directors, would be in the audience for the screening. Watching the film with my never-resting cynical eye and then shaking the hands of the directors as I leave the cinema made this a weird sit, to say the least. But was it a good sit? This is The Quarantine Hauntings.

The plot: Jasmine (Lauren Clark) is trying to cope with her father’s recent death and is having nightmares. She, her best friend Skye (Elizabeth Wiltshire), her brother Zac (Jack Marshall) and his best mate Blake (Bailey Skelton) go to the purportedly haunted North Head Quarantine Station to work on a school assessment and pretend to evoke the spirit of The Girl In The Pink Dress (Dalisha Cristina). However, as Jasmine begins to act strangely and the others see the spirit around them, they realize that maybe the legend is realer than they thought.

This is a film with a micro-budget of roughly $50,000 and I have to give this film credit that it looks decent considering that. The main camera quality is good, the effects are a bit wonky but still passable and while the filmmakers may only have access to two different sets, that being Jasmine’s house and the Quarantine Station itself, it at least made good use of the little that they had. As someone who went on a few tours of the Quarantine Station some years back, I also give major props for the concept behind this film as well as that station is all kinds of creepy and works well as a backdrop for a horror film. It may not be the best looking film but there are quite a few things that I can forgive this movie for given the relatively tiny budget.

However, there are some things that lack of money doesn’t make up for, namely ability; like the ability to act convincingly, the ability to use a camera or the ability to write a coherent script. On the first point, the acting here is pretty woeful with a lot of wooden and awkward performances that vary between passable and outright laughable. Easily the biggest offender amongst the cast list is Jack Marshall as Zac, whom must have taken his role as the comic relief a little too seriously as his amazingly awkward performance was making the audience laugh even when it wasn’t intentional. There are a couple of decent spots in the cast, namely Dalisha Cristina as the Girl and Darren Moss as Jasmine’s boyfriend Cameron. Darren is one of the few actors here who has a previous acting credit to his name and it shows as he at least seems to be on a surname basis with Drama. He plays the role fairly aloof with a bit of douchebag charm and he pulls it off. Dalisha as the main paranormal disturbance in the film is genuinely creepy, even without having that much dialogue to speak; props to her for managing it, as far too many times recently have I seen child actors in big-budget horror fare who are supposed to be menacing but just come across as annoying.

Upon seeing this film's trailer for the first time, I immediately thought two things: First, I was wondering what took filmmakers so long to make a horror film set in one of the creepiest locales in the country; and secondly, I was hoping and praying that this wouldn’t be a found footage movie. Well, it is and it isn’t at the same time. There is a traditional movie camera at work here, but there are also a lot of shots taken from surveillance cameras at Jasmine’s house as well as from some camcorders that the characters are holding, as if the filmmakers couldn’t make their minds up on which one they wanted to do. While the normal camera work is decent, the found footage is absolutely awful. The surveillance cameras serve no purpose whatsoever, either narratively or thematically, as they mostly don’t show anything aside from maybe one or two shots of the Girl. The camcorder footage is easily the most bizarre I’ve seen in any movie, theatrical or otherwise. When it isn’t shaking so bad that you can barely make out what’s happening on screen, it’s just a black screen where we literally can’t make out anything. The main points when we are able to make out what the camera is filming is either when it‘s just pointed at the ground as the characters are running, or when it’s pointing at one of the signs at the Quarantine Station like this is some covert promotional video for the place. The fact that the lighting in this film is mostly dim and the editing is extremely choppy make this look even worse.

Despite the great choice for the setting, this plays out like so many other horror films of the last decade or so. The characters are extremely stock and seem to be characterized in the new traditional style of making our cast that unlikable that we don’t feel bad if they die, a style of writing that no-one will mourn the death of; admittedly, they aren't as unlikable as a lot of others out there, but there's no denying that they're made from a similar mold. They're pretty inconsistent even within that basic framework, with character decisions that seem at odds with their previous choices. Jasmine is pretty bland as our lead, Skye is the obnoxious best friend and Zac and Blake serve as our comic relief and very annoying comic relief at that. Oddly enough, the only character that I found myself caring about at all in this film was Cameron, the character that is constantly being given the third degree by Skye throughout the film’s running time. He may be jokey a lot of the time but he feels like the only character who has a decent head on their shoulders, not to mention being the only one who actually seems sympathetic to Jasmine as she becomes possessed by the Girl. Yeah, this is a spirit/demon possession story and a pretty basic one too that doesn’t do much to make itself stand out from the myriad of others out there. Its string of failures to create atmosphere, lack of clarification on what exactly the Girl is doing or is capable of and weak jump scares throughout all culminate in, without a doubt, the weakest and most tacked-on exorcism scene I’ve ever seen. Not that a good exorcism could have saved this film’s final reel, as the writing becomes that incomprehensible that I seriously couldn’t make out what the hell was going on, not helped by the already-haphazard production values.

All in all, I was really looking forward to this one based on the locale alone but this is a pretty bad sit. While the small budget can excuse some of the production problems and there were some genuine scares here and there, the writing, acting and overall composition are kind of painful to witness. This is Z-grade horror schlock that can only really be enjoyed with one’s tongue firmly pressed against their cheek. At least Dumb & Dumber To had some legitimate, if sporadic, moments of genius. This may be the new bottom of the year’s list but I still advise checking this film out; partly to help support a local production, and partly to see some good unintentional comedy. I give the director Bianca Biasi all the best, and I’ll no doubt be returning to her soon enough considering she has three other films in the works for this year, but I just tell it how I see it. No-one's perfect, especially for their first time in the director's seat.

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