Frightfest Digital 2020: Daniel Wood Reviews Dark Place

Frightfest Digital’s Dark Place is a brilliantly themed horror anthology film made by Aboriginal Australians, starring Aboriginal Australians and about Aboriginal Australians that truly explores some of the trauma and horrors that they’ve experienced in real-life.

It’s a pure anthology in the sense that there’s no wraparound story to tie everything together, so we’re not getting a clever twist or reveal and the individual stories aren’t commenting on a larger theme or event that typically would tie into the wraparound.

Instead, Dark Place replaces the wraparound with the general theme of Aboriginal Australian experiences and history, with each individual story commenting or reflecting on some of the many things that have affected them in the past, and indeed currently, without overtly (for the most part) mentioning them. Most of these are mainly centred around the well-documented oppression and appropriation of their culture.

There are five short stories in total, all using varying and unique sub-genres of horror to tell their story and all telling distinctly different stories with distinctly different presentation. Despite the obvious low-budget and the slightly ropey title-card presentation that precedes each film, the final product of the films themselves is high-quality with everything from sound-design; writing and editing tightly controlled and managed.

The first story is a feminist message about female oppression and revenge when a group of kidnapped aboriginal and black women being used as sex-slaves wreak bloody havoc on their captors. This uses the obvious parallels between women and aboriginal Australians being oppressed to good effect and has some really neat moments of gore and cathartic justice.

The second story is more of a psychological horror about inner conflict, duality and repressing violent and murderous urges as an insomniac films herself when she’s finally able to sleep and discovers she’s sub-consciously committing horrors before eventually succumbing to herself.

The third story, which was a highlight for me, featured a classic witch trying to steal youth from a neighbouring child and we see the child’s mother’s attempts to stop her. Again, the obvious allusion that is being made by telling a story about a white woman trying to steal youth from an Aboriginal girl doesn’t need explaining.

We move on to the fourth story which already feels different due to its black and white presentation, but brings us a tightly wrapped mystery about a girl who seems to be guarding her home from something when an injured man turns up. We soon learn there’s more to this story than meets the eye and that the girl, is in fact, a vampire.

We finally end with a classic bit of Ozploitation horror comedy as a hilariously vile English couple try to claim a piece of land in Australia as their home but end up reckoning with the actions of their fellow countrymen. This film, whilst presented in a light-hearted way, is the most directly critical of settlers claiming Aboriginal land that isn’t theirs to claim.

All five stories are very well acted with several of the stars at the start of their careers. The story’s writers and directors are all mostly aboriginal and also fresh emerging talent. This is where Dark Place really shines, usually Australian horror has focused on how Aboriginal influences are a threat to western white civilisation (see The Shout or Picnic At Hanging Rock) but this subversion has allowed new, under-represented voices to exorcise these demons and reclaim some of their land through the medium of horror.

Progressiveness and diversity have always been central tenets of the horror genre and if we keep getting neat little anthologies like Dark Place as a result, then long may they continue to be.

For more information on Frightfest Digital 2020 including reviews and interviews as they happen, head here

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