Directed by: Jon Hewitt
Actors: Joel Edgerton, Michael Dorman, Sebastian Gregory
Also known as: Die Erpresser
No wonder why a bikini clad Lara Bingle stopped asking the world “where the bloody hell are ya?”; there’s really no need for to further associate the words ‘bloody hell’ with Australia when our film industry does the job so well. Following in the grisly footsteps of Wolf Creek, the deeply chilling Acolytes further suggests that Australia is a murderer’s playground. If you can survive the Outback, we’ve now got serial killers lurking behind closed doors in model suburban homes. Not only does this make Acolytes Tourism Australia’s worst nightmare, it’s sure as hell to be yours as well.
In the same vein as Wolf Creek, the sluggish but necessary first act to Acolytes makes the impending bloodbath all the more harrowing. Skipping school, troubled teenager Mark (Sebastian Gregory) and his friends Chasely (Hanna Mangan Lawrence) and James (Joshua Payne) stumble across a man burying a body in the woods. Instead of calling the police, they decide to play detective and find the murder themselves. When the killer turns out to be seemingly normal husband and father (Joel Edgerton), the teens use their knowledge to blackmail him into killing an ex-con (Michael Dorman) who is accountable for their traumatic childhood.
Acolytes cleverly manipulates its audience by disguising itself as a straightforward crime drama; right before each revelatory twist, you’ll think you’ve got it all figured out. Whilst the first half seems to be burdened with seemingly inconsequential plot points, the importance of these scenes is later revealed as the story comes full circle. For this reason, Acolytes warrants a repeat viewing in order to catch its many clever nuances.
During the extended set-up, suspense is expertly crafted through brilliant sound design and slick direction. The camera takes on an active role in the film, stalking the characters and not merely documenting their actions. Music emanates from diagetic sources, such as a Chasely’s mp3 player or the car stereo, subtly adding to the sense of realism director John Hewitt skilfully constructs. At a loss to many overproduced Hollywood horrors, Hewitt understands that excessive use of gore actually lessens its impact on the audience. This is why Acolytes keeps the bloodshed close to its chest, giving the violence a profound consequence when it finally arrives.
While it does take Joel Edgerton forty odd minutes to actually make his first full-blown appearance, his unsettling presence underpins every frame. The great menace of his murderous character comes from just how seemingly normal he is; within his model suburban home, a family portrait of his smiling wife and child hangs in the hallway. The delicate shift in Edgerton’s tone as he goes from soft spoken husband to malicious killer is as unsettling as it is mesmerising. Michael Doorman’s performance as Parker is just as strong, convincingly developing a deep complexity to his troubled character that extends beyond his jagged outward appearance. The superb performances from Edgerton and Doorman more than make up for the noticeably amateur teen leads. Sebastian Gregory and Hanna Lawrence are amicable enough despite their rigid dialogue, but Joshua Payne’s forced character struggles to convince.
Yet their performances do little to lessen the sheer impact of this cleverly twisted, gut-wrenching Aussie thriller. Much to the dismay of Tourism Australia, Acolytes is further proof that the horror genre is currently Australia’s greatest film export.