Gold Coast Film Festival Review: Observance (Australia, 2016)

Australia has played the crest to the wave of ‘indie horror’ films settling amongst international audiences. Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook was received as one of the best horror films of the decade, and the minimalist-horror ethos settles well with Australian roots in Outback Gothic; something that’s quite present in Joseph Sims-Dennett‘s Observance.

The film follows Parker (Lindsay Farris), a professional voyeur, spying on a woman at the request of a mysterious employer. Almost the entire film takes place in the abandoned apartment adjacent from the woman’s home, where Parker watches through his camera, listens in on her calls and tries to figure out what it is he’s being paid to do. Parker is also tending fresh scars; his son’s recent death weaves into the film with wonderful, ethereal transitions, and his marriage is breaking under the weight of heavy debt.

The division between who’s watching who blurs as Parker starts to experience strange, unexplainable things in the apartment he’s squatting in. There’s a glass jar that keeps filling with an unknown black liquid, a strange wound festering on Parker’s back and a transient figure seemingly trying to keep him from leaving. Parker also starts to expel black ooze, animal corpses are piling around the apartment, and his son’s necklace appears and vanishes unforeseeably.

With the aid of John Jarratt, Parker finds out the woman he’s watching could be in danger from the Delphian family she’s become entangled with. The family being linked to a murder in similar circumstances, where the killer made reference to ‘the beast put within him’, something that Parker seems to affiliate with in later scenes. The movie clears into two recognisable endings, was Parker imagining it all, or was he subject to something more sinister.

The narrative plays out like Jacobs Ladder, the film progresses like a picture slowly coming clear, losing the static only to separate into two unique pictures that are both identifiable, but neither perfectly clear. In this sense, Observance returns the power of determination to the viewers. There’s no definitive conclusion, and this will either frustrate you, or fascinate you.

Lindsay Farris is great as Parker and Stephanie King plays the girl across the street as well as the character allowed. There are certain clichés that shadow the more stylish aspects of horror, but most of the time the film derives it’s scares from well-crafted, spooky moments and anti-climax. The aesthetics are very typical for the genre, but still a very pretty blend of grey washed beaches and glum suburban homes. The abandoned apartment at times feels like another character in the film.

Observance comes at a strange time in the scope of contemporary scare-flicks. The movement towards subtleness has created a certain divide between traditional gore-core advocates such as Eli Roth and Bret Easton Elis (see http://podcastone.com/pg/jsp/program/episode.jsp?programID=592&pid=565931) and the frontier directors of the minimal indie-horror. This said Observance is definitely one film to bring to any argument supporting the latter.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Observance is showing at the Gold Coast Film Festival. To find out more about the film and screening details for it, click here.