Australia, a land of sunshine and surf, of great tracts of unspoiled land, of high living standards and affordable property, but also of poisonous snakes and spiders and a patriarchal history of intolerance expressed in the segregation and displacement of natives as what was once the dumping ground of Europe’s convicts became a desirable prospect.
An anthology from the Antipodes screened at FrightFest, Dark Place explores the other side of Australia in five short films, Scout (written and directed by Kodie Bedford), Foe (Liam Phillips), Vale Light (Rob Braslin), The Shore (Perun Bonser) and Killer Native (Bjorn Stewart).
Three kidnapped women dressed in high heels and short skirts, paraded in manacles before men who abuse them as suits their taste. “Black girls go missing and nobody notices,” but the knowledge that she will not be saved incites Scout to defiantly rescue herself; brutal and raw yet also uplifting, Bedford’s opening piece carries extra import by virtue of being devoid of the fantastical, depicting what for many trafficked women is a reality.
Suffering from sleeplessness, Elena’s doctor suggests that as a filmmaker she should tape herself through the night to see what it might reveal, but what she finds when she wakes only makes it worse, blood on her nightshirt and a knife in the bed beside her. A reversal on the Aboriginal walkabout where an individual searches the Outback until they meet themselves, Elena’s opposite has instead come unasked for to find her in Phillips’ creepy tale.
Shae and her daughter move into a new home, evicted from their old property after a fire, but while Isabelle becomes friends with well-travelled neighbour Diane her mother is wary, and her instincts serve her well. A struggling single mother whose “friends” are anything but, Braslin’s Veil Light plays games of witchcraft and misdirection in the suburban sunshine.
Filmed in monochrome, Bonser’s trip to The Shore is more abstract, with nightmare and memory blending as gunshots ring out and an unseen thing tries to break down the barricaded door to the shack by the river where Selena has taken shelter, but it is not her home; she has no home, not in the conventional sense.
Stewart’s Killer Native surprises on two counts, a period piece of two settlers staking a claim in uncharted territory and an outrageous bloody comedy, a diversion well earned after what has come before and which would not work so well in any position other than as the finale, as the misdeeds of the previous occupant of the house in which Thomas and his pregnant wife Sally hide are fully and deservedly visited upon them.
The five segments diverse in style, tone and content, Dark Place is refreshing viewing, with new voices telling their unique stories and new faces in front of the camera, yet they are inextricably linked, with each director putting Aboriginal actors in lead roles and addressing the legacy of Australia as a colonial territory, conscious of the treatment of the natives by the white settlers and their continued marginalisation expressed, perhaps appropriately, as horror.