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Scare Campaign

Scare Campaign (2016) / D: Colin Cairnes, Cameron Cairnes / 80m

Cast: Meegan Warner, Ian Meadows, Olivia DeJonge, Josh Quong Tart, Patrick Harvey, Cassandra Magrath, Steve Mouzakis, Jason Geary, John Brumpton, Sigrid Thornton

Scare Campaign is a TV show that loves to prank unsuspecting members of the public by putting them in creepy situations and then scaring the life out of them. Approaching the end of its fifth season, the latest show has to be rescued after the stooge reacts to a “reanimated” corpse by producing a gun. Warned by their boss (Thornton) at the network, Marcus (Meadows) and his team are tasked with making their season finale more contemporary and more dramatic, particularly in light of the exploits of a rival “reality” TV show called Masked Freaks, which appears to show snuff footage.

Taking over an abandoned mental hospital, Marcus and his team – including ex-girlfriend and lead actress, Emma (Warner), aspiring newcomer Abby (DeJonge), and make up supremo JD (Harvey) – get ready to prank their latest stooge by making it look as if the place is haunted by the ghosts of former patients. Enter Rohan (Tart), the stooge, who reveals an unexpected connection to the hospital, and who soon goes on a rampage killing the Scared Campaign team. Emma finds herself being chased by Rohan, and along the way, discovers cameras that aren’t linked to the production…

Scare Campaign - scene

There’s a degree of fun to be had from Scare Campaign, the latest feature from Australians Colin and Cameron Cairnes, and horror fans in general will be happy with the level of inventive gore on display, but the movie falls into the same traps as many other low-budget horror movies, from the perfunctory character development – does it really matter if Emma and Marcus once had a relationship? – to the uninspired use of the low-budget horror movie maker’s location of choice, the abandoned medical facility.

Where the movie does score highly is in its use of humour, offering up some genuinely funny moments when you least expect it, as when one of the team reveals that they do their research. Co-writers and directors Colin and Cameron Cairnes inject enough rude energy to keep viewers watching once the central conceit is revealed, but by the movie’s awkward and credibility-lite conclusion, some viewers may well have become exasperated by some of the narrative decisions. That said, Warner and Tart provide good performances, and the relatively short running time means the movie doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Rating: 5/10 – though not as effective as it would like to be, Scare Campaign is still a reasonably likeable shocker, even if it does come across as too derivative for comfort; the Cairnes brothers have talent, but coming after their more impressive first feature 100 Bloody Acres (2012), this looks and feels like a backward step.

 

Emelie

Emelie (2015) / D: Michael Thelin / 80m

Cast: Sarah Bolger, Joshua Rush, Carly Adams, Thomas Bair, Chris Beetem, Susan Pourfar, Elizabeth Jayne, Dante Hoagland

Stressed out and needing an evening together without their kids, frazzled parents Dan and Joyce (Beetem, Pourfar) don’t stop to think that it’s strange that the babysitter who shows up isn’t the one they were expecting. Instead they head off without checking to see if Anna (Bolger) really is who she says she is, and leave their three children – Jacob (Rush), Sally (Adams), and Christopher (Bair) – in the care of a young woman who soon begins behaving oddly. She plays inappropriate games with them, and soon earns the suspicion of eldest child Jacob, who begins to realise that Anna may not be the replacement babysitter she’s supposed to be.

While their parents remain oblivious to what’s going on at home, Anna’s behaviour becomes increasingly alarming, and Jacob, Sally and Christopher find themselves being menaced by her. When the reason for her being there is revealed, Jacob does his best to keep his siblings safe, but Anna (now revealed as Emelie), always manages to keep one step ahead, even when the original babysitter’s friend, Maggie (Jayne), calls to say hi. Matters escalate, and by the time Dan and Joyce try to ring home and get no answer – prompting their swift return home – Emelie has almost achieved her aim in being there.

Emelie - scene

Michael Thelin’s first feature opens with an abduction, a predatory incident that takes place in broad daylight, and which is scary because it happens so easily. And a few uneasy moments aside, it’s also easily Emelie‘s most effective sequence. For despite many good intentions, and a handful of scenes that veer off in directions that aren’t immediately obvious, the movie struggles to maintain the sense of eerie disquietude that that opening provides. It’s a shame, as the uneven narrative needs more than just a few incongruous and unsettling moments to be as potent as it should be.

As the titular villain, Bolger gives a compelling performance, and manages to maintain a sense of repressed violence that adds greatly to her portrayal of a young woman pushing herself into a very dark expression of parental need. It’s also good to report that all three child actors cope well with the demands of the script, and Thelin directs them with due care and consideration. Once a cat-and-mouse situation develops, Thelin can’t resist adopting a more melodramatic approach, and there’s a subplot involving Emelie’s “partner” that seems superfluous until it’s used (clumsily) to link the parents and their belief that something is wrong at home. And to rounds things off, Thelin also can’t resist the possibility of a sequel, something that anyone watching this will not be clamouring for.

Rating: 4/10 – clunky and annoying for the most part, Emelie takes every parent’s fear – that of their children being at the mercy of a stranger who means to do them harm – and tries too hard to be different, resulting in a movie that is only fitfully tense and only occasionally alarming; with any menace reduced as a result, the movie can only pander to genre tropes in the hope that no one will notice just how ineffectual it is, and how poorly developed is Rich Herbeck’s screenplay.

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