Thursday, January 09, 2020

The Marshes, on Shudder

He is a symbol of Australia, but we’ve had our Uncle Sam horror movies, so why can’t they have a psycho “Swagman” as well? Usually, the Swagman is an impish trickster, but this incarnation is hardcore homicidal. He will give three field researchers the Wolf Creek treatment in Roger Scott’s The Marshes, which premieres today, exclusively on Shudder.

Three is definitely a crowd for Dr. Pria Anan and her biologist colleagues. Understandably, there is a great deal of tension between her and Ben, her chief rival for grant money that will extend her term of employment, or his. Adding further jealousy into the mix, there could be some sparks between her and Will, the eager new undergrad intern. Unfortunately, Ben amplifies the bad vibes with his unusually macabre reading of the ghostly swagman immortalized in “Waltzing Matilda.” Needless to say, whenever they hear the ghostly strains of the Australian folk anthem, it portends very bad things.

Initially, the researchers assume a rather loutish poacher is messing with them, because he is. However, they will eventually realize the Swagman is a more pressing and dire threat. He even seems to have supernatural powers to disrupt compasses and warp the space of the wetlands, forcing them to constantly walk around in circles. Frankly, you could describe Marshes as a simplified version of In the Tall Grass, but with more slasher violence.

The use of “Waltzing Matilda” is clever and effective, but the film itself is dark, brutal, and off-putting. Like clockwork, it offers up a totally clichéd ending that is a real downer. It is only eighty-five minutes, but it leaves you wondering why Scott went to all that effort take us to that place.

Although his cultural significance is interesting, the Swagman himself has less personality than Wolf Creek’s Mick Taylor and he is considerably less horrifying looking than inbred Charlie Wilson in Charlie’s Farm. There is really no need to bring this character back (if we can even use the word “character”). On the other hand, Dafta Kronental makes a strong impression, in a good way, playing Anan as a smart, vulnerable, and increasingly unreliable figure. To be fair, Sam Delich also adds some notable energy as Will.

Given the Australian bushfires, this might not be the best time to program a grisly film about survival in the Australian wild. Of course, the three wetland conservationist characters would dearly love to see their tall grass prison get torched. Regardless, it continues the mystery of how the laidback land of g’day has produced such brutal horror films (like Killing Ground and Hounds of Love, as well as the aforementioned Wolf Creek franchise and Charlie’s Farm). Not recommended, The Marshes starts streaming today on Shudder.