There’s pure horror and then there’s horror mixed with the supernatural. Pure horror exists in real life caused by panic, disgust and dread in sharp contrast to supernatural horror that may include magic, superstition and otherworldly concerns.
Jennifer Kent has proven she knows her way around both styles of the horror genre. Kent’s first film “The Babadook” revolved around a recently widowed lady. An imaginary monster that turns out to be disturbingly real haunts her child, Sam. Much of the fright the movie exudes comes from Sam’s constant screaming. An audience can be unwound by sounds of violence and terror that seem to linger well past the point of comfort.
Kent’s follow-up film “The Nightingale” exceeds her debut film in horrific imagery despite never venturing into paranormal realms. Set in Tasmania in a prison colony in the early 19th century the viewer is thrust into a world of primitive passions and class systems.
Clare (a remarkable Aisling Franciosi) lives as a second-class citizen at the penal colony Van Diemen’s Land, abused by British officers. The only people lower on the totem pole are Aboriginal natives.
The first reel of the film will either repel viewers or grasp them by the movie-going collar as Clare is savagely raped twice by British soldiers only to then watch them kill her husband and smash her baby to death. Seeking justice at a larger town across the island she enlists the aid of Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) as a native guide through the treacherous forest that separates their remote outpost from civilization. The officer who masterminded her attack is never far from them as he’s also traveling to the same town in a race against time.
Kent, from Australia, had her choice after “The Babadook” to make quaint American films but instead chose to write and direct “The Nightingale” as an “indictment of racism and colonial violence.”
The film proceeds like a road trip vengeance flick albeit one taken on foot. The relation between Billy and Clare starts on unequal footing but as they both realize they have a common oppressor they form an alliance. Kent shows style with violence. Kent also proves she’s no fluke as a director with this powerful sophomore feature.
“Ready or Not” plays horror for comedy. The film it most resembles would be “You’re Next” as people in a house are either being killed, stalked or hunted in a deadly game of hide and seek.
Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett are part of a film collective known as Radio Silence, but unlike the collective Broken Lizard (“Super Troopers”) they gravitate towards the macabre rather than straight comedy. Credit them for a streamlined game of cat and mouse, with a steady stream of gore and an eye toward spotlighting actors new and old.
Samara Weaving stars as a bride who marries into a wealthy family only to discover on her wedding night they share a hideous hidden secret. Weaving hails from Australia and may very well prove to be the new Margot Robbie. Established thesps like Andie MacDowell, Henry Czerny and Adam Brody play members of the family.
The irony is not lost that “Ready or Not” from Fox Searchlight (now distributed through Disney) contains the same seeds of sedition – humans hunting humans – that got the Universal Pictures flick “The Hunt” pulled from release.
The laughs are evenly paced with lacerations until “Ready or Not” pulls out the rug from the audience in the last ten minutes.
It’s here that the filmmakers decide to add a Satanic ex machina and turn the preceding black comedy into a sacrificial occult ritual. The film would’ve worked much better if the necromancy had been better orchestrated into the narrative.
“Ready or Not” is playing at several area theaters. “The Nightingale” opens exclusively at the Alamo Drafthouse LaCenterra and the Regal Grand Palace this weekend.