Killer Mermaids

DIRECTOR Milan Todorovic WRITER Marko Backovic; Barry Keating; Milan Konjevic STARS Kristina Klebe; Franco Nero; Natalie Burn DOWNLOAD 29 June DVD 29 June

REVIEW Naila Scargill

Killer Mermaids

Coming from a confused premise—the mythological Greek siren; (inaccurate) Nazi history; stalk-and-slash—Killer Mermaids is an empty affair. A lack of subplot and character arc struggle to fill feature-length, and, despite its excellent location—the islet of Mamula, which holds a fort once used as a Fascist concentration camp during WWII—the film fails to reap potential rewards.

The title’s promise of a schlocky creature feature is far from what is delivered; our titular mermaid disappointingly plays out as a minor supporting character, in lieu of her anchor-wielding human assistant, making for a bog-standard slasher. Depth-lacking performances delivering perfunctory dialogue do nothing to assist, and, while Franco Nero is welcome as horror’s archetypal voice of foreboding, his gravitas is undermined by an unintentionally funny edit that introduces overly-long, repetitive monologues to what desires itself a frenzied affair—although that freneticism is largely made up of characters simply running through corridors.

Strong points are some very good underwater photography—more use of this would have paid dividends—and a lush locale. These however are not enough to elevate Killer Mermaids past tedium.

Unhallowed Ground

DIRECTOR Russell England WRITER Paul Raschid STARS Ameet Chana; Poppy Drayton; Marcus Griffiths DOWNLOAD 29 June DVD 13 July

REVIEW James Gracey

Unhallowed Ground

The central motif of Unhallowed Ground — the idea of malevolent spectral guardians annihilating those who dare seek out ancient forbidden artefacts — has distinct echoes of the antiquarian horror of M. R. James, particularly “A Warning to the Curious” and “The Treasure of Abbott Thomas”. A strangely old-fashioned horror, Unhallowed Ground may lack the subtlety and foreboding atmosphere typical of James, opting as it does for jump-scares of loud bursts of music and shadowy figures darting across the forefront of the screen, but it does benefit from an atmospheric location (London’s Mill Hill School) and a promising premise.

A moody prologue sets the tone and hints at dark secrets aching to surface. During the 17th century, students of a prestigious school were spared a gruesome death by plague after they ritualistically murdered four of their own in a Satanic pact. In present times, the building is still used as a boarding school, and when it shuts down for midterm holidays, six students from the cadet corps must remain behind to patrol the grounds. Unbeknownst to them, two former marines have broken into the school to raid a vault of historical documents and artefacts. As the night progresses, they are beset by increasingly odd occurrences: glimpses of shadowy figures, doors slamming, lights flickering.  Before long, both parties begin to suspect that something deeply sinister is afoot.

The cast provide fine performances, though the roles they portray are only slight variations on typical teenaged horror movie characters, and they fail to evoke much sympathy. The script mines group dynamics for all they’re worth as various twists mean the group is constantly fractured and re-fractured. But while this ensures a nimbly paced narrative, there is little in the way of suspense, and after a while events become repetitive enough to verge on tedious. Too many scenes are laden with dialogue and while a slow-burn approach is to be applauded, events don’t really go anywhere during the first half, and despite the double threat the students face, tension is often lacking. A wealth of interesting ideas brewing beneath the surface remain undeveloped, while rudimentary direction fails to make the most of the supremely moody location. When it arrives, the denouement is lacklustre. Given the myriad final-reel revelations, what should have been a frenzied, diabolically-tinged climax struggles to decide when exactly it should end.

Can’t Come Out to Play

DIRECTOR John McNaughton WRITER Stephen Lancellotti STARS Samantha Morton; Michael Shannon; Charlie Tahan DVD 22 June

REVIEW James Gracey

Cant Come Out to Play

Originally titled The Harvest (a more fitting title given the subject matter), Can’t Come Out To Play is John McNaughton’s first feature film in over a decade. While perhaps more subtle than his previous offerings like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and trashy thriller Wild Things, it’s no less provocative or compelling. No stranger to exploring the darker side of humanity, the director builds a sense of dread and unease from the outset and takes his time to establish the characters before plunging them, and us, into hellish domestic chaos.

The idea of defenceless children at the mercy of tyrannical parental figures has more than a touch of the Grimm fairy tale about it, and childhood fears are mined for maximum impact. Notions of parental abandonment, domestic abuse and familial dysfunction form the core of the story. Sickly Andy (Charlie Tahan) has been ostracised from the outside world thanks to his domineering mother whose overprotective tendencies have rendered him a veritable prisoner in his own home, while recently orphaned Maryann (Natasha Calis) finds that she has no one to turn to when her grandparents don’t believe what she reveals to them. A particularly outré twist is well enough executed to ensure the audience isn’t completely jolted out of the story and the sudden change in tone isn’t too jarring. Even before events descend into blatant horror territory, there’s a strong sense of unease and tension generated by the central couple’s obvious marital strife.

While several moments arguably border on the far-fetched, they are rescued by the performances, which perfectly convey the chilling psychological implications of the couple’s actions. Andy’s parents may be deeply flawed and increasingly unhinged, but they are also human enough to evoke some sympathy despite the heinous things they’ve done. As the monstrous matriarch Katherine, a resplendently formidable Samanta Morton ensures her character never becomes two-dimensional, despite a screenplay which oversimplifies everything. In the hands of a lesser actress her character could very easily have descended into camp parody, but Morton treads a very fine line and ensures the audience are all too aware of Katherine’s desperation. As the downtrodden husband Richard, Michael Shannon, also an imposing screen presence, impresses with a performance that aptly conveys his character’s inner turmoil and he maintains enough ambiguity to keep us second-guessing his trustworthiness.   

While Stephen Lancellotti’s screenplay is rather pedestrian, McNaughton’s measured direction and some disarmingly powerful performances really help to elevate it and increase the intensity. What could have easily been melodramatic drivel is rendered surprisingly powerful with certain moments packing a hefty emotional wallop. Several scenes are genuinely shocking and while certainly not graphic, are particularly haunting because they depict harm wrought upon the young by those who should be protecting them.