25 May 2024
Beaten To Death read Bradley Hadcroft's review...

Film Review – Beaten to Death (2023)

Sumptuously shot outback horror that slabbers over suffering whilst wallowing in hopelessness.

The consequences of risky life choices are beyond brutal for Jack and his wife Rachel as they face the completely disproportionate wrath of a sadistic family of Tasmanian bush dwellers. Mutilated to a shambling blood crust baked by blistering sunshine Jack launches a desperate bid for survival against the elements and the evil that stalks him.

The provocative title of Sam Curtain‘s nasty little Hicksplotation thriller leaves little room for ambiguity. It leaves even less space for viewers badgered by its relentless violence to complain. However, if it is to satiate its obvious target market of extreme horror fans it must also deliver the disturbing goods.

No surprise then that an exorbitant amount of screen time is dedicated to top-tier torture porn and lovingly curated scenes of abject agony. Indeed, Beaten to Death is a balls-deep, eye-gouging orgy of anguish that might well surpass the salacious expectations of even the most degenerate horror hounds.

There is a tangible air of cynicality permeating Beaten to Death and the filmmakers have gone on record as saying they knew exactly what they were doing in forging such a nihilistic movie. In order to court controversy, reap publicity, and obtain notoriety they jettisoned any sensibilities regarding taste and restraint. However, counteracting this Machiavellian doctrine is the quality of the artistry and fierce enthusiasm for genre filmmaking.

Curtain had the guts to take on the responsibility of lensing the landscape and carnage himself and it has to be said he has done a remarkable job. Of course, the unforgiving beauty of the Tasmanian terrain is an exquisite backdrop that a blind gibbon with delirium tremens could point a pin camera at and get results. Even so, his cinematography is truly gorgeous.

Sweeping vistas contrast with the close scrutiny of every droplet of blood and sputum. The dingy greyness of the abuse scenes is juxtaposed with stunning sun-glare silhouettes. The latter provides one of the most arresting images in recent horror memory whilst creating an iconic moment that cements the film’s own identity.

When a picture contains this much extended distress it is easy for monotony to set in. Yet, the meticulous framing and genuinely inventive perspectives and angles keep this rotting of a human soul paradoxically fresh. A jaw-dropping example of this comes during the film’s most triggering gore scene. It is filmed in such a wince-inducingly original way that it could have sprung directly from the unhinged mind of vintage Dario Argento. The aftermath, labelled ‘The Black’ by the filmmakers, is arguably even more unsettling.

The non-linear timeline helps to massage the brain out of any lingering brutalisation boredom as does the bombastic sound design, fruity c-bombed dialogue, and the lean and twisty narrative. Obviously influenced by The Hills Have Eyes (2006) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Beaten to Death showcases more than enough egregious creativity to suckle on their sanguineous teats without mounting a shit-blasting drive by on their legacy.

Powered by pain and sponsored by moral bankruptcy Beaten to Death hacks crimson phlegm in the disgruntled face of nuanced character development and shoves a sharp middle finger up the back passage of backstory. It’s populated by one-dimensional caricatures that border on insulting parodies, but that’s kind of the point here. No Cinephile is seeking out a film called Beaten to Death to unearth a deep Chekhovian meditation on the intricacies of the humanist dynamic. That being said, the acting is never cringy and the writing is solid enough to support the preposterous premise.

Much rests on Thomas Roach‘s ability to infuse Jack with an everyman-likeability that makes the viewer want him to outsurvive his perverse pursuers. As the ordeal heaped upon him reaches near-comical levels, somewhere in the dehydrating desert between Wrong Turn and The Passion of the Christ, Roach remains fully committed to the cause. So much so, he ended up hospitalised for a night with an inflamed kidney. At least now he can list human piñata on his acting resume.

Even outside any meagre budgetary considerations, every aspect of this gory pain parade is beautifully concocted to rub maximum strength cinematic irritant into our eyes. Watching it feels like riding out waves of renal colic whilst pissing blood inside a Tasmanian tourist board video.

After being assaulted by this malicious movie many viewers may take the position that the filmmakers have wasted their obvious talents on such a basic exercise in exploitative debasement. The counter-argument is to suggest they simply channelled their creative verve, scant resources, and independent spirit into deconstructing the horror film into its purest elemental form.

★★★★

Horror, Survival, Thriller | Australia, 2023 | Cert. Not Rated | 92 Mins | Welcome Villain Films | Dir.Sam Curtain | With: Thomas Roach, David Tracy, Justan Wagner, Nicole Tudor


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