Lauded as one of the great hidden gems of the Ozploitation movement and praised by Quentin Tarantino in the documentary Not Quite Hollywood, Tony Williams’ Next of Kin adds an nightmarish quality to family ties in a technically impressive slow-burn horror.
Next of Kin manages to surpass the now-associated tropes of Australian horror (outback lunatics, wild beasts and stranded tourists) and settles its story in a set-up akin to a haunted house tale. We follow Linda (Jacki Kerin), a straight-laced and pleasant young woman whose mother has recently died, leaving Linda the entire Montclare estate that she had recently converted into a retirement home alongside Linda’s Aunt Rita.
Returning to her hometown, Linda settles right back into life at the estate, helping with the residents and rummaging through her mother’s belongings. She discovers her mother’s old diary and spends her free time reading through the faded pages and learning more about her mother’s secret history. It is after this discovery that she notices strange things happening around the house; they are all in conjunction with what she has read in the diary.
From flickering candles and shadowy figures to dead men in bathtubs, Williams plays with various images to flex the film’s creep factor. A carefully arranged run of jump scares, grotesque imagery and camera trickery showcase a glowing technical proficiency. Cinematographer Gary Hensen’s camera lingers on images of haggard wrinkled faces, among others, for a length of time, bordering that line of discomfort that truly elevates its simplistic script. When the camera does move, it does so with an anxiety-building style reminiscent of The Shining; dolly zooms through lengthening corridors and spiral staircases with a seemingly never-ending turn. Even though it starts out as a presumed haunted house tale, this mixture of scares sets up an unclear path of thrills and kills for a puzzling mystery scenario which begs the audience to question whether the house is being haunted, or if the strange goings-on are party to a sinister, real-life murderer’s plans .
With plenty of people to suspect, Linda embarks on a mission to find answers to the murders that start amassing within Montclare. Aided by her boyfriend Barney – Aussie legend John Jarratt from Wolf Creek, in a surprisingly charming role – Linda amazingly manages to remain fairly sane throughout the ordeal, always retaining her polished demeanour. However, she, nor her fellow loved ones, never feel at risk until a climactic and shocking finale. Despite the success of not falling into the ‘crazy woman’ horror mould, a little more urgency would benefit the films pacing as its clues are laid out. The mystery itself is still well sustained throughout though, topped with a cherry of a startling synth score from composer Klaus Schulze.
Hugely endearing in its lingering twisted visuals and sharp score, what Next of Kin lacks is a depth of character: little is revealed about Linda, so her plight is lightly felt. The slow-burn nature of the film works in many regards, giving a full-bodied atmosphere to the house and its rooms: the repulsive green hue of a bathroom tile or creak of an old staircase end up conjuring more life within the walls than the actual characters that reside within them.
Dir: Tony Williams
Prd: Robert Le Tet, Timothy White
Scr: Michael Heath, Tony Williams
Cast: Jacki Kerin, John Jarratt, Alex Scott, Gerda Nicolson, Charles McCallum, Bernadette Gibson
DOP: Gary Hensen
Music: Klaus Schulze
Run time: 89 minutes
Next of Kin is released in the UK for the first time on Blu-Ray on March 22nd.