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Visually stunning but keeping a great heart
With a visual style somewhat reminiscent of Pan's Labyrinth, it's a pleasant surprise to find that Hugo is actually a story bursting with warmth and beautiful flourishes of whimsy.
A bit like Edward Scissorhands, Hugo somehow manages to create a glossy Gothic fantasy world and use it to tell some very simple and uplifting truths about how we as humans communicate with each other and the world around us.
Sianoa Smit-McPhee gives an incredibly textured performance as the frenetic and intense Desma and Andre Jewson is otherworldly in all the best senses of the word as the mysterious Mothboy who is about to challenge some of the beliefs Desma has constructed around herself.
The junction between haunting beauty and uplifting atmosphere is perfectly encapsulated in the film's score which is a thing to behold all of itself.
Bowen's script is beautifully handled by Verso and this audience member at least is looking forward to whatever is coming next for both of these people.
Max: A Cautionary Tale (2003)
Funny, creepy, amazing. (minor spoilers)
When I saw this film, the director presented it with the comment that he wanted to put "the cast of the Breakfast Club into Nightmare on Elm Street 2". I don't whether he succeeded in that specific aim, but by mixing the teen comedy and horror genres, Verso has definitely broken new ground for the cliches of both.
This is no Scream, here, MAX is a genuinely creepy psychological horror that keeps the audience guessing right up the very end whether the demonic presence stalking Damien through his own house is a real threat or the paranoid delusions of a mentally disturbed young man. Minimalist lighting and creative camera/editing work keep the audience constantly on edge. Even when we know what coming, there is still something horrific about waiting for it get there. The scene with the washing machine would have to be one of the tensest I've seen in a long time.
But the horror in MAX is hardly the point of the film, instead it serves as a rather elegant allegory for the rite of passage being undergone by the hero Damien as he tries to learn to face his own inner demons whilst battling the more immediate ones that are after him. The film's central message seems to be an argument against repression - MAX is given life by Damien's inability to face an increasingly stressful and expectant world.
Given that none of the performers in this film are paid professionals, it's amazing the quality of performance coming from some of them. In particular, Amber Clayton as the aggressive, misunderstood not-quite-love-interest Deborah and Purdy Buckle as Damien's malignant and maligned older sister Monique are amazing as they somehow manage to present fully realised characters in the midst of a deliberately fragmentary narrative.
But I think the real reason I enjoyed MAX as much as I did was when I realised how much had been done with so little money. The entire film is meant to have been done with a $3,000 budget and still comes across as something much better than anything likely to be found in your local video store. I hope next time round, Verso is given a much bigger budget to play with, because the result could be amazing.