May 7th, 2009 Film, Film Features, Xpress

Acolytes is the kind of film that reminds you there’s two types of horror. In films such as Freddy vs Jason and even Friday the 13th and Saw the director or writer wants you to laugh – they know most horror is about confronting our fears safely, laughing at them because they can’t reach across to our side of the screen and get us.

Acolytes is the opposite, a film with no such humour or even a single wry wink, one that instead seems to share intentions with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, wanting us to consider the pointlessly terrible things people do to each other and making it as realistic as possible to gnaw underneath our skin.

When three schoolkids in Queensland’s suburbs stumble upon a mystery, they get in far too deep. After Mark (Gregory) sees a four wheel drive leaving the bush, he convinces friend James (Payne and James’ cute girlfriend Chasely (Lawrence) to investigate. When they dig up the body of a missing backpacker, the boys dream up a dark scheme.

Unbeknown to Chasely, James and Mark were both the victims of brutal child rapist Parker (Forman), who’s not long out of jail. Realising they’ve stumbled upon the trail of a serial killer, they identify the well to do suburbanite Dad serial killer Ian (Edgerton) because of the distinctive spare tyre cover on his truck and try to blackmail him into killing Parker so the memories stop haunting them. But when Ian approaches Parker with a far deadlier proposition, all three land in even deeper hot water.

Such a description of the plot doesn’t give anywthing away about the stylistic approach of the film and could be a Nancy Drew mystery in other hands. But director Hewitt has made it into a nihilistic, bloody, scary film that will elicit anything from discomfort to all-out sickness. From the haunting opening shot of the camera moving slowly across past the Sunshine Coast’s Glasshouse mountain range you can see the method and technique.

While he could be called a gimmicky trickster for such an approach, Hewitt uses every picture and sound to elicit discomfort. It’s all very slow apart from bursts of shocking violence (usually accompanied by a loud shriek) and there are long stretches of silence with nothing but a slowly building whistle or similar disquieting sound, in some shots building to an orchestral flare-out that will make your ears hurt.

The picture was presumably shot on video and is extremely dark and muddy, colours indistinct and black shadows everywhere, even in full sunlight. An alt-rock soundtrack permeates some of the sielnces between faltering speech, much of it muttered to the point of being unintelligible.

There’s a final twist involving Mark and another missing girl, but it’s one of several plot developments that didn’t make any sense to us. As such it’s a far less effective story than it is a slowly nerve-tightening mood.

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