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Tabula Rasa

The 2005 EyeScream Film Festival

A review by Iain Triffitt

EyeScream 2005 Poster The regular reviewers of the Eyescream Short Horror Film competition have become so notorious that they've been upgraded to judges, giving me the duty of reporting on the 5th such festival, held just before Halloween 2005 in the Manning Bar at Sydney University.

The Manning Bar is a dark, mysterious place buried somewhere on the grounds of Sydney University, a place known only to those dreaded fiends; university students and followers of alternative bands. It is a dark unkempt place full of long greasy hair and overpriced beers. This was the venue of the 2005 Eyescream Short Horror Film festival. Not that I could tell from the array of humanity lined up outside. Here was I expecting some ungodly combination of the goth scene and the death metal scene, and what I was faced with was — university students. Was I in the wrong crowd? Had I got my dates wrong and shown up for an Alain Resnais retrospective? They seemed too, well, too clean for horror fans. Not one coiled up Fangoria to be seen. I shouldn't have worried, the efficient security staff (you don't need security for an Alain Resnais retrospective, just someone with a sharp stick to wake people up) put my mind to rest, that we may actually be watching something dangerous tonight.

Our palates were whetted at the start by a filmic introduction to the night's host, Jacinta Doyle — a self-proclaimed underage Irish prostitute. She appeared to me to be a female impersonator, but I am notoriously bad at such judgments. Jacinta indeared herself to the audience immediately by chasing Paris Hilton through a car park and chopping her into tiny little bits. Alas, it was only footage cribbed from House of Wax but we can dream, can't we.

And then the films began. Only half were concerned with serious horror ("The Intruder", "Perdition", "Broken" and "Fuel") whilst the others were mainly jokes or sketches in horrror drag ("Snap", "Induction", "Flat White", "Claustrophobia" and "Dead Shift".)

"The Intruder" (written and directed by Janine Hewitt), with its dark visuals and muddy soundtrack, had the feel of a waking dream. It had a classic horror movie set up: a woman under threat, all alone in the house, lets an intruder in. It was stately and serious, but not terribly scary and resulted in a too conventional ending. Nonetheless, this was the winner according to the judges.

"Perdition" (written and directed by Matt Carter) had a bold colour scheme, professional actors and high production values, but its symbolic representation of drug addiction was lost on me. A woman in a white room suffers a nose bleed and is comforted by someone in white, they go into the next room which is red and has a devil figure in it, who is slain by a hypodermic syringe that has transformed into a sword. Should have been bloody obvious in retrospect but I thought it was only about being caught between heaven and hell (which it was, in a way...) The nose bleeds should have given it away, but I'm not that familiar with the coke habits of the Sydney media scene.

"Broken" (written and directed by Josh Groom) produced the first shock of the evening. A well-made exercise in horror minimalism. A woman returns home from jogging to find an intruder in her house. There's a shower scene, some gore, a few shocks and no real plot to speak of. However, it was a very clever reduction of a typical slasher film down to its basics.

"Fuel" (written by Christopher Wheeler, directed by Nash Edgerton) was the highlight of the night. A couple get lost on the back roads of the Australian bush only to run out of fuel. And that's all I'm going to tell you. Part of the joy of the film was the uncertainty of where it was going. Good character development (for a change) and a bright, sun-lit Australian setting made "Fuel" stand out from all the other films. It also had a gasp-generating scene, the last film to do so in the night. "Fuel" has won many awards and is likely to show up on SBS or other short film festivals. Keep an eye out for it.

"Snap" (written by Stephen Coates, directed by Kurt Breitenmoser) was a revenge fantasy for chronic movie goers, encouraged to empathise with the protagonist as he wreaks vengeance on those interfering with his cinema viewing experience. Fun in a cathartic way, but quite slight and little more than a sketch.

"Induction" (written and directed by PJ Collins) concerning a nightmarish introduction to a company's workplace showed some originality in the details, but overall said nothing that wouldn't have occurred to most people about the nature of their work environment. It was amusing, but little else.

"Claustrophobia" (written and directed by Gareth Q Barrett) was a restaging of "Ten Little Indians" in a lift. That's pretty much it. Ten people in a lift, the lights go out, one of them is found dead. Rinse and repeat.

"Flat White" (written by Dave Norris, directed by Dave Redman) concerned a café owner's revenge on his yuppie clients. More of a sketch than a horror film, it was quite amusing but seemed out of place.

"Dead Shift" (written and directed by Ana Djordjevic) was my favourite of the comedies and the winner of the SBS Prize for the evening. A zombie comes into a late night convenience store only to encounter an unexpected reunion. Funny and sweet whilst still remaining squarely within the horror genre, I truly enjoyed it.

And that was Eyescream 2005. The evening was rounded off by the audience voting and prize giving. As lots of prizes were supplied for the audience, this got to be interminable. It was interesting to note that none of the entries seemed influenced by j-horror or other recent movements in cinematic horror. They mostly appeared to be influenced by seventies slashers or Twilight Zone episodes. "Perdition" at least tried something original but was too obscure for me (and needed more attention paid to character, I felt.) All in all, a good night was had by the audience and I look forward to Eyescream 2006.


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