Autumn Chills, Thrills and Kills: Mandy, Noé and A Season of Creeps

The Australian Centre for the Moving Image has long been a champion for screen media in various forms, whether it is through their museum exhibits, their specially curated cinemas that show a mixture of new films and old classics, or their partnerships with film festivals and screen media companies. What not as many people realise is that ACMI also has a rental streaming service, Cinema 3, in which they showcase specially curated collections of, like their cinemas, new and old films from across the globe. Their current new additions include the Safdie Brothers’ Robert Patterson Vehicle Good Time, French portrait of class war La Haine, and the Japanese experimental film Funeral Parade of Roses. 

Alongside these are a new collection of seasons. In partnership with ACMI Cinema 3, Screen Studies students at Swinburne University have worked to curate eight seasons of films, bundles of five movies centred around specific themes. One such season is Autumn Chills, Thrills and Kills, a season that transports the creepy and tense mood of Halloween from the American autumn to the Australian. And one of the students who curated this season was me.

The season is designed to be accessible to both horror/thriller fans, who may have heard of some of these films, if not all, but maybe haven’t yet approached them, as well as non-horror/thriller fans, who maybe are looking for an entry point into the genre. Part of our goal for this season was to appeal to the Cinema 3 audience, who may not be looking for frightening films, but horror films that serve up an experience that plays on the mind, that delves into the psyche, rather than the heart-racing tension, and in doing so, make it more appealing for audiences who have been wary about horror in the past.

The five films we have on offer are the drug trip psychosis of Gaspar Noé’s Climax, the existential spiral of She Dies Tomorrow, the grief-laden paranormal nature of Don’t Look Now, the quiet, supernatural mythmaking of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and the demonic psychedelia of Mandy, an eclectic bundle of psychologically fascinating horror/thriller films from across the globe and cultures.

Climax (2018)

Gaspar Noé, a well-known, well regarded European provocateur filmmaker, comes in first on the season with his 2018 drug trip Climax. The film follows a dance troupe on their last night of rehearsals before they go on tour. To celebrate, they throw a party, however when the sangria is spiked with LSD, the troupe spiral into a psychosis of emotions, sex, violence and deeply seeded fears.

Climax is an incredible nightmare of a film, a plotless experiential piece in which Noé throws his audience into the traumatic spiral of his characters along with them, following Sofia Boutella across long shots and anxious walks between the various rooms in the school hall, as she panics through the trip, while also watching her friends and colleagues collectively lose their minds, some just being weird, others committing somewhat heinous acts. It’s unnerving to say the least, yet stylish, attention-grabbing and absolutely enamouring. Even clocking in at a short 91 minutes, it’s a film that is a total whirlwind mania of a film that sticks with you long after the credits begin to roll. It’s a totally disturbing trip of a film, but Noé is such a singular and perfectly pitched filmmaker who knows how to dig into the psyche of the human brain so well that it’s hard to look away.

She Dies Tomorrow (2020)

The directorial debut of actor Amy Seimetz, She Dies Tomorrow is an existential spiral of complex human emotions. Filmed before, but released during the first year of the pandemic, the film came at just the right time as the state of the world felt in flux and resonated with the state of the world. The film follows Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) and Jane (Jane Adams), two women who are convinced they are going to die tomorrow and transfer their existential crisis to everyone they meet.

The film is an abstract piece of beautiful existentialism, a paranoid and haunting film about the way in which people react to their own mortality. It’s a careful, psychological dive into the human psyche, abstract in its construction, as well as in Seimetz’s direction, it toes a heightened line between surrealism and primordial humanity. It is, in some ways, one of the most difficult films of this season because it can be so personal and so confronting for an audience to deal with the kind of thinking that the characters are exposed to throughout the film. It’s simultaneously beautiful and horrific and feels all the more relevant in the era we live in today.

Don’t Look Now (1973)

Directed by Nicolas Roeg, and starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, Don’t Look Now follows two grieving parents, whose daughter drowns in a pond in their country home. John and Laura Baxter move to Venice to restore a church within the city. However, just as they’re getting comfortable, the couple encounters a pair of sisters, one of which claims to be psychic and allegedly can sense their daughter’s presence. After this encounter, the couple begins to spiral as their experience of grief and how they deal with it diverge.

The film is a claustrophobic, paranoid experience, Roeg’s careful direction lends itself to a deeply unnerving and psychological analysis of the effect of grief upon a couple, the deep depression of this couple is represented as a form of ghost story, not haunted in the sense of revenge, but the death of their daughter both looms large above the couple, but also the physical presence of a girl in a red coat running around Venice. Roeg’s use of Venice’s enclosed canals and a stark sense of haunted atmosphere creates this really unnerving psychological thriller that really explores the complexity of how different people experience grief. The final beat of the film is a truly iconic and horrific sequence that brings together the entire atmospheric work, pulling together all of the paranoia, claustrophobia and general sense of unease into a tense, taut and chilling piece of filmmaking.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2015)

Set in Bad City, a decrepit Iranian town full of addicts, pimps and lost souls, the film follows Arash (Arash Marandi), a young man looking after his heroin addict father, Hossein (Marshall Manesh), who owes money to Saeed, “the Pimp” (Dominic Rains). Meanwhile, The Girl (Sheila Vand), a cloaked woman who wanders Bad City at night, reveals her true nature as a vampire, a kind of anti-hero who takes vengeance upon men who treat women poorly, such as Atti (Mozhan Marnò), a prostitute working under Saeed. The lives of the various characters within Bad City intertwine as The Girl wanders the streets.

With a German expressionistic inspiration behind the black and white cinematography that calls back to the earliest vampire film Nosferatu, as well as the Iranian cultural influence, writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour creates a mythological film that transposes the various ideas and interpretations of vampire myths into a Middle Eastern setting to tell a story that subverts the expectations of what the title means, as well as playing off the audience’s understanding of vampires as depicted throughout the creature’s various interpretations over the centuries, combining the various allegories and identities of vampires into a single piece of quiet arthouse mythmaking.

Mandy (2018)

The final film as part of this season is possibly the most fun. Mandy follows Red Miller (Nicholas Cage) and Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough), a quiet couple living in the Shadow Mountains in the 80s, both dealing with their own complex pasts and want for solace until they are attacked by a religious cult and a demonic biker gang. This sets Red off into a grief-induced, insane plight for revenge as the lines between reality and acid fuelled fantasy begin to break down.

This film has been described as the cinematic embodiment of heavy metal, and it’s hard to think of a more apt description. Aided by Johann Johannsson’s incredible rock score, married with Cosmatos’ incredible sense of neon-infused psychedelia, Mandy is that perfect degree of total insanity, unnerving demonic atmosphere and pure genre entertainment, with a stellar unhinged Cage performance at its centre, possibly the greatest of his unhinged performances. It’s understandably upsetting, it is still a revenge thriller after all, and in its psychedelia and surrealism, it is not necessarily an easy watch, but Cosmatos’ hallucinatory filmmaking, and the sense of makes it go so hard. It’s a truly rewarding watch.

This bundle is available through ACMI Cinema 3 here (only available in Australia): https://cinema3.acmi.net.au/page/autumn-chills-thrills-and-kills/ 

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