Thursday, August 20, 2015

Review: Throwback

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2015
Images from the Internet

Written and directed by Travis Bain
Multi Visionnaire Films / Sapphire Pictures
93 minutes, 2013 / 2014

It has been a while since I saw a beastie film, let alone a Bigfoot one. This one is from northern Australia, so the great hairy one is known as Yowie (as opposed to Yeti), as in what you say when it steps on your foot. Sorry, didn’t mean to start off with a bad joke, but there ya go. After all, the film actually says “Filmed in Yowiescope,” so I think my gag is okay.

Which leads me to the first point of this film: It is definitely not what might be considered a comedy, but there is a very dry sense of humor that definitely runs throughout. That is if you’ll notice that over the absolutely stunning cinematography of the director, Travis Bain. It’s not just the wide(Yowie)screen, it’s the lighting, the texture of, well, everything. There is a flow in the movement, and the richest of the forest feels like it’s alive. There is almost a travelogue-ness to the way he shows leaves, water and rocks. The background is as arresting as the action happening within it.

Now, back to that action. After a really fun prologue set a century ago, we are introduced to two explorers, looking for the lost treasure of an infamous robber by the name – I kid you not – Thunderclap Newman (no, not the band who sang “There’s Something In the Air,” but it’s definitely a prescient hint of trouble; in all honesty, I am not a fan of that song, but I digress…), deep in the steamy back jungles of northern Oz. exterminators by trade Jack (Shawn Brack) and Kent (as in Nick Kent, keeping up the classic rock nods?; Anthony Ring) are joined, thanks to bad citizenship trough a campfire hazard, by short-pants’d ranger Rhiannon (Melanie Serafin, whose character is named after yet another classic rock reference).

With a nod to The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948), there are double- and triple-crosses, as if a hairy brute weren’t enough of a tension driver. Human animals can be as bad as the dangers in the forest. Especially ones that can’t seem to keep a bullet count (i.e., how many they have shot). Or that two strikes of a rock to the back of the head are probably more effective than one. Although thighs seem to be in the most danger in this film!

The beastie makes its presence felt, but it’s more a secondary character, which actually works well for this story of greed, desperation, and foliage. We rarely get to see the Yowie’s face, just close ups of hands and other furry body parts, and that’s okay too. And while the gore is kept at a minimum, there are bound to be some squeamish parts for some.

And in the middle of it all, giving a hand in a cameo, is Vernon Wells, who played the mohawk’d Wez, the most memorable character from the original Mad Max II: The Road Warrior (1981, so good it’s the only Mel Gibson movie I can still watch). However, unlike the original Mad Max (1979), this one is not dubbed over for North American audiences, thankfully, and the director trusts we’ll understand the lingo, which is not any harder than watching Masterpiece Theatre. Just more fun.

With a relatively small cast and a big jungle, this release is pretty effective in making a big ado. It’s pretty obvious that nearly   the entire film was shot in one small area from different angles (confirmed during the “Making Of…”), but it still looks amazing. After all, there is a reason it has won so many Festival awards considering its relatively low budget (listed as $200,000).

There are quite a lot of extras in this. For example, it starts with a 15-minute “alternative ending,” which of course was the original ending before test marketing. I understand taken as a whole why they made the change, but personally, I like the first half of the alt/original, and the second half of the one used, because the original plays against a stereotypical trope. However, one change I would have made is rather than throwing in a quick flashback which would make the old ending obvious, just show the action of the object being left. As it stands, though, they made the right choice of the two.

We are given a 3-minute and 15 second deleted scenes that were totally right to take out, and superfluous even for the extras as it didn’t add anything. However, there is a 44 minute Behind the Scenes featurette broken up into 6 parts to make up for it. It’s more of a shooting diary, focusing mostly on Travis, Shawn and Nick, and almost nothing with Melanie. It’s pretty interesting, especially the technical details, and probably longer than it needs to be.

Also included are a couple of trailers for this film, and some video blogs (23 minutes) of traveling to a film festival in California. Honestly, the travel part of going from Australia to California is kind of boring, but it picks up once they finally reach the Con at 14 minutes in. Travis and Anthony meet up with Vernon, who by I once met at a Chiller Theater con in New Jersey, back in the 1990s. Yes, he came across as a nice guy who let me take his picture without charging me. In one part they’re trying to convince three people to come to the screening, and I’m relatively sure, by coincidence, one of them is Ryan E. Francis, one of the stars of ThanksKilling (2009). It’s great to see them win the award for Best Foreign Film, and I’m just sorry they didn’t include the Q&A after the film screening here.

At almost 6 minutes in length, there is the 1999 16mm short film directed by Travis called “Daniel’s Jack” about the internal monolog by a guy, Daniel, who gets a flat tire and doesn’t have a, well, the title says it. It’s based on an old joke, but it’s very effective here (Groucho does the same thing in 1933’s Duck Soup, for example). At just over 8 minutes, we are given the well-made “Full Moon, Dirty Laundry” from 1998, the story of two lonely people who meet in a laundromat. At nearly 5 minutes, there’s the very amusing “Parrot Ice Tours” from 2014, about two cheeky kids trying to raise money to fix a broken window by taking advantage of Asian tourists.

The next extra is a series of local Cairns, Australia radio interviews. The first three are with Shawn Brack, two with Anthony Ring, and one with Travis. All are interesting. The very last extra is a 1 minute video clip of Wells reading an excerpt of a 1916 story called “The Hairy Man.”

For his second full length feature, Travis did a great job. While this film could use a bit more tightening up, it’s an incredibly decent release deserving of the praise it’s been given at all the festivals it’s been accepted at, and worthy of checking out.




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