Details: (MA15+), 89 mins, In Cinemas 28 July 2011, Australia, English
Synopsis: In the Saint Mary's College, the student Ben Rutherford (Michael Dorman) inherits a strange device from his deceased father. However, the device is stolen and out of the blue his friends are murdered, one by one, in a bizarre way. Ben and is brother Marcus (Travis Fimmel) have been estranged for years, but they get close again and discover that the machine is a tool built for revenge by Rubenstein in the Eighteenth Century. Further they also find that their father had killed his partner Robert Shawn ten years ago and now someone is seeking revenge for the sins of their father.
Imitation is the sincerest form of slashery.
Director John V Soto’s reverence to the college-campus slasher genre in his Perth-shot splatterfest Needle, is both the film's greatest asset and it's most cumbersome liability. Needle delivers in spades all the prerequisites that fans demand – pretty people getting sliced up in all manner of fashions – but as the film progresses, the homage becomes humdrum.
A prologue sets up the 'macguffin' very effectively – a wealthy man takes a phone call that leads to his graphic death, and the horror unfolds in front of his wife and young daughter. He is the victim of a mechanised box called 'La Vaudou Mort'; the mythical machine (which, we come to learn, originated from the Grand Guignol theatre in Paris) enables its owner to create wax voodoo dolls that enact bloody acts of revenge.
The film then jumps forward two decades to a bustling university campus, and the audience is introduced to the student bodies, the majority of which we all know will most likely not make the end of the movie. Our hero is Ben (a fine Michael Dorman), who has unwittingly taken delivery of the 'La Vaudou Mort' as an inheritance from his father's estate. When the box goes missing, Ben's close-circle of friends begins dying by particularly gruesome and imaginatively-staged means.
Soto would have us believe that his film is aimed for the young horror fan – the internet-savvy teens that will get a kick out of exploitative elements like open-wound blood-squirts and a rockin' lesbian lip-lock between Jessica Marais and Trilbey Glover. But Needle is such a precise nod to ‘80s slasher lore that it will probably play best to the mums and dads of those kids. To the film’s credit, it lacks the smug self-awareness that predominates the modern teen horror genre, but that commitment to integrity gives Needle a retro familiarity that the key demographic may find a little too quaint.
The film finds its surest footing in Soto’s penchant for the genre minutae. His casting choices are particularly effective – of the college crowd, Luke Carroll (Stone Bros, 2009), Tahyna Tozzi (Beautiful, 2009) and Khan Chittenden (Clubland, 2007) excel, despite having to wrap their mouths around some wooden dialogue. Veteran John Jarratt (Wolf Creek, 2005) takes over from Ben Mendelsohn as the key investigator of the killings, suggesting an extended, stop-start shoot did not allow for Mendelsohn’s schedule. Ex-pat Travis Fimmel and US B-star Jane Badler fill out key roles sufficiently; local character actors Malcolm Kennard and Murray Bartlett make welcome appearances.
Soto’s camera lingers on limber bodies and blood-flooded crime scenes; his framing and blocking of each character’s demise shows obvious affection for the collected works of John Carpenter, Sean S Cunningham and Clive Barker (the 'La Vaudou Mort' device can be directly traced to the Lament Configuration cube in Barker’s Hellraiser, 1987). He is clearly a fan of the genre in which he works. One assumes that with his next film, he will move from honouring those that forged a path for him and strike out on his own dark, disturbed journey.
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