December 6th 2013 02:43
If ever a film was wantonly bleeding for a long-deserved exhumation from the bowels of VHS Hell, it’s Tony Williams’s early 80’s genre classic Next of Kin, a ‘lost’ Australian horror thriller that was last briefly glimpsed in Mark Hartley’s revelatory documentary Not Quite Hollywood (2008).
Returning to rural Australia and the decaying nursing home she’s inherited in the wake of her mother’s passing, Linda (a magnetic, impressively naturalistic Jacki Kerin) is dismayed by the task at hand, requiring the aid of long-time assistant Connie (Gerda Nicolson) to manage the daily chores. It’s not long before a series of inexplicable occurrences unsettles Linda; then a much-loved resident dies under peculiar circumstances that cast a sinister light on life at Montclare, including a suggestion of supernatural interference.
As Linda delves further into her mother’s diaries, there’s a sense that mounting evidence of her mother’s increasingly erratic mind in later years might be feeding an irrationality that threatens to unhinge her. As Linda renews acquaintances with boyfriend Barney (a young John Jarratt), an ominous figure begins to lurk on the edges of this suitably gothic mansion’s grounds in another potential pointer of further foul play to come.
The film’s first half is intriguing bit unevenly paced. It's undeniably well handled by Williams who calculatedly distributes the chills at well spotted intervals alongside some awkward, clunky dialogue and piecemeal characterisation. There's the establishment of a solid enough narrative base, in other words, however little does it prepare you for the tour-de-force final act. Here the tension is ratcheted up unbearable levels as the brilliant Steadicam angles of D.P. Gary Hansen, masterful manipulation of Williams, intense performance of Kerin and the simplistic but uncannily effective, thudding electronic Klaus Schulze score merge in a provocative, heart-stopping tryst of terror.
Spine chilling overhead shots and stylish use of slow-motion only enhance the dread as Linda confronts the truth in swiftly evolving, visually dazzling and memorable scenes upon which this film’s reputation should justly be based. Sadly, this would be the only film of this type tackled by the unsung Williams, a New Zealander by birth, whose background was mostly in commercials to this point. With Next of Kin (1982), he displays the flair and instinct of an old genre master.