Directed by Josh Todaro
★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Director Josh Todaro’s short horror film Button Man (Australia, 2021) is a supernatural riff on the rumors about a real-life person who lives as a hermit in Australia’s Victorian High Country, where several people have gone missing or been found dead during the past couple of years. Ascribing otherworldly events to a true crime situation for a film is bound to be controversial — The Springfield Three (U.S., 2020) being one example — but Todaro and his cowriters Jamie “Pees” Lehman and David McKinnar take that fanciful route for this short. The result is a solid addition to the subgenre of “Don’t go in the woods!” fear-fare cinema.
Jade (Stephanie Panozzo) has talked her sister Lydia (Melissa Claire) into joining her for an excursion into the High Country for some sibling bonding, which includes trying to get Lydia’s mind off of her ex-boyfriend. Jade has brought along their mother’s home-movie camera from when the pair were kids, and when Jade first films Lydia, she thinks she sees something strange, but isn’t sure. As the two go deeper into the wild, odd occurrences keep happening, culminating in a nighttime encounter with Button Man (Don Bridges), who seems to have powers unexplainable by modern science.
Todaro helms Button Man admirably, and he is greatly aided by his cast and crew. The pacing is impressive, starting off by giving viewers beautiful establishing shots of the High Country courtesy of cinematographers Lehman and McKinnar, and setting up the sisterly dynamic between the two leads, with Panozzo and Claire exhibiting fine chemistry together, before steadily increasing the suspense and diving into the high strangeness.
Sylvan horror short Button Man does a first-rate job of tapping into primal fears and the thought of being isolated and helpless deep in the wild. It’s ripe for being fleshed out into a full-length feature, for which Todaro shows the talent and potential.
Directed by Cameron McCulloch
★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
It has been a long road from script to screen for writer/director Cameron McCulloch’s microbudget feature Scam (Australia, 2021). What started off as taking up a university lecturer on a sort of challenge in early 2001 became a fully realized film only this year, as shooting occurred 20 years ago but some of the footage was put into storage after a fire and other footage was discovered during the 2020 lockdown, after which cast member Nathan Hill — a prolific actor and director — began editing the film. Hill has done a marvelous job piecing together what remains of the footage, and even if Scam is not completely what McCulloch originally intended, his enthusiasm and talent at the helm (and in a supporting role) are evident.
Probably the most recognizable cast member in Scam is Kestie Morassi, who appeared in Darkness Falls (2003) before going on to Wolf Creek (2005) and numerous other projects, including the upcoming fright-fare outing The Surrogate (2021). In Scam, she portrays Kim, a scam artist who wants to move up the ranks in her father’s (Ian Rooney) organization but is thwarted by his promotion of soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend Ben (Stuart Orr). She takes on the drifting Matthew (Carter Doyle) as a protégé, and the film then introduces as many characters and subplots as a Shakespeare play. The performances range from strong to scenery chewing, but no one in the film can be accused of not giving it their all.
McCulloch has amassed an impressive list of credits since first working on Scam including directing the horror shorts Dear John (2010) and Home (2010), the latter of which appeared as a segment in the anthology Zombieworld (2015). He obviously made Scam to entertain, and it does that nicely. From humorous dialogue including a scene about an expensive, imported mustard to a good deal of action, intrigue, violence, and some horror-worthy gore and practical effects, McCulloch’s labor of love delivers the Ozploitation goods.
Reviews by Joseph Perry
Button Man and Scam both screen as part of Monster Fest, which runs December 2–12, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia. For more information, visit https://www.monsterfest.com.au/.
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