Most horror fans can probably agree that Netflix’s catalogue leaves much to be desired. Enter horror-streaming service, Shudder. In addition to a pretty impressive library of older horror movies, Shudder platforms some decent indie productions. Last year, Shudder released two stand-outs in Prevenge and Revenge. Now early in 2020, Shudder’s latest release is Aussie slasher flick, The Marshes. Part urban legend, part Wolf Creek, The Marshes looks to continue a proud tradition of Ozploitation.
University biologists, Pria and Ben, along with their undergraduate assistant, Will, head into the Aussie marshes for sample collections. Things get off to a rough start for the trio. Tensions between Pria and Ben arise over her attraction to the younger Will. And locals illegally hunting in the conservation area give the researchers a rude welcome. Then a late evening around the fire ends with Ben regaling his colleagues about the ‘Swagman’ killer. As the legend goes, the Swagman hunts anyone who rules afoul of his territory, whistling as he stalks his pretty. But when the trio wakes the next morning to ominous whistling, …
The Marshes a Confused Mishmash of Ideas That Never Gel
No one can accuse writer and director Roger Scott of lacking ambition. That is, The Marshes packs in a lot of different ideas into its short runtime. Too bad the Aussie slasher struggles to piece these ideas into a coherent story. Over its first half or so, The Marshes teases a Wolf Creek set-up with its ‘city folk run afoul of the locals’ scene. At the same time, Scott intersperses The Marshes with surreal shots of bacteria and micro-organisms between scenes. Maybe Scott intended to craft a dreamy, ambiguous art-house horror film. Some of the movie’s best moments are Pria’s mosquito-bite infused dreams. Alas, Scott doesn’t do much with either of these ideas.
Nothing about the ‘Swagman’ is scary or unsettling.
As The Marshes hits its stride, the Aussie flick descends into a muddled mix of slasher and survival horror. And this part of the movie is much less interesting and, quite frankly, poorly executed. Nothing about the ‘Swagman’ is scary or unsettling. In trying to keep the movie’s antagonist surrounded in mystery, The Marshes inadvertently delivers an unmemorable killer. Consider ‘Swagman’ a poor Wolf Creek version of Mick Taylor. Most of the movie’s few death scenes occur off-screen with awkward set-ups. For those viewers interested in gore, The Marshes does have one grisly scene involving blood and entrails. Yet this scene takes us to next glaring problem with the movie.
Plenty of Shaky Cam and It’s Not Even Found-Footage
On one hand, The Marshes features some exquisite shots of the Australian wilderness. If Scott’s goal was to make ‘the Marshes’ a character itself in the movie – not unlike last year’s In The Tall Grass – he’s succeeded. Clearly, there’s some talent behind the camera. Nonetheless, Scott struggles with the movie’s horror and action elements. Oftentimes it’s difficult to see what’ happening and, as a result, key scenes play out as confusing rather than frightening. As the movie winds down to its climax, the shaky camera work becomes distracting.
Scott struggles with the movie’s horror and action elements.
In spite of these problems, The Marshes at least benefits from good performances across the board. Western audiences aren’t likely to recognize any of the actors. Though Scott hasn’t given his performers a lot with which to work, everyone acquits themselves just fine for what’s essentially a slasher movie. However, good performances can’t always lift themselves above writing issues. It’s not that Scott underwrites his characters. Rather Scott introduces introduces ideas – tensions among characters, for instance – that he subsequently drops. This is the overall problem with the movie – lots of ideas and styles that never come together.
The Marshes Falls Short of its Ambitions
Somewhere in Roger Scott’s The Marshes is a good movie. Nonetheless, good intentions don’t make great movies. And The Marshes is more a smattering of ideas than a cohesive horror movie. Bits of supernatural, urban legend, slasher, and survival horror get tossed into the pot and stirred up. Sadly, none of these coalescence into a tense or scary viewing experience. Instead, The Marshes alternates between dull and occasionally incoherent.