Sunday, November 3, 2019

#2,507. Next of Kin (1982) - Spotlight on Australia

Directed By: Tony Williams

Starring: Jacki Kerin, John Jarratt, Alex Scott

Tag line: "There is something evil in this house"

Trivia: This film was one of many featured in the documentary Not Quite Hollywood where it was praised by Quentin Tarantino

A film that Quentin Tarantino once called “A horror movie unlike any other”, director Tony Williams’ 1982 Ozploitation horror/mystery Next of Kin is, indeed, an exceptionally unique motion picture. 

After the death of her mother, a distraught Linda (Jackie Kerin) begrudgingly returns home to become the manager of Monteclare, a retirement community that has been owned and operated by her family for years. 

After settling in, Linda reconnects with her old boyfriend Barney (John Jarratt) while also befriending Lance, an elderly resident played by Charles McCallum. But before long, her apprehension at taking over the family business will turn into an all-out paranoia! 

It all begins when one of the home’s occupants is found dead in a bathtub. While trying to figure out what happened to this poor soul, Linda starts digging into Monteclare’s rather shady past, and because of this finds herself being tormented by an unknown person (or persons). 

Linda is convinced that the local Doctor (played by Alex Scott) and the home’s longtime assistant manager Connie (Gerda Nicholson) are conspiring against her, attempting to drive her mad. But are they the true culprits, or is the turmoil at Monteclare being caused by someone else entirely? 

First and foremost, Next of Kin is a beautifully shot motion picture. Director Williams set out to style the movie like a European film, drawing particular inspiration from Bernardo Bertolucci (a key sequence was clearly influenced by a late moment from Last Tango in Paris). 
In addition, the movie’s cinematographer, Gary Hanson, borrowed several techniques made popular decades earlier by Alfred Hitchcock and a handful of others (a dream sequence features an effect much like one found in 1958’s Vertigo). 

Overhead tracking shots, Steadicams, and dolly shots pop up throughout Next of Kin, and often when you least expect them, adding to the overall experience. 

Performance-wise, the cast is strong, especially a young-looking John Jarratt (Mick Taylor in Wolf Creek) and Jackie Kerin herself, who is not only likable as Linda but also plays her as an incredibly strong-willed heroine. 
Director Williams said one of the reasons he made Next of Kin was because he had no interest in copying the American slashers that were popular at the time, in which female characters served mostly as victims. In this film, Williams not only gives us a female lead but one who proves time and again to be the movie's toughest character. Even during those moments when Linda thinks she’s losing her mind, she remains resolute (one night, the lights inexplicably go out at Monteclare. To ensure the residents are ok, Linda searches the rooms, and while doing so encounters things that make the audience leap out of their seat. Yet she takes each new discovery perfectly in stride). 

Linda does eventually lose her cool (when she is pushed to the brink of insanity), but even then proves that she’s not someone to be trifled with. 

As for its story, Next of Kin starts off as a mystery: what exactly is happening at Monteclare and how does it tie into the past? We find ourselves caught up in Linda’s search for answers, and because of the film’s energetic style I was fully invested in these early sequences. The opening half is undoubtedly a slow burn; there are creepy scenes scattered throughout, but at this point the horror hasn’t yet kicked into high gear. 

Our patience is rewarded, however, in the film's second half - particularly the last 30 minutes - when Next of Kin crosses into full-blown Ozploitation territory, and in a big, big way! The scares come fast and furious here, and things get absolutely crazy before the story reaches its climax. 

I would love to talk more about what happens in these late scenes, but I don’t dare; Next of Kin earns its surprises, and I have no intention of spoiling a single one of them. 

While I really enjoyed the opening mystery, I absolutely loved the end! I have a soft spot for movies that shock the hell out of me, and Next of Kin did so several times. It is a film I wholeheartedly recommend.

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