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Review: Next Of Kin – “A slowly building layering of atmosphere of increasing unease”

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Directed by Tony Williams
Starring Jacki Kerin, John Jarratt, Alex Scott, Gerda Nicolson, Robert Ratti

Linda (Jacki Kerin), is returning to her small, home town for the first time in many years – following the passing of her mother, she has inherited the family estate, with the grand, if slightly dilapidated, grand house of Montclare. Returning after so long away would be awkward at the best of times, both in the small town (understandably the locals wonder why she hasn’t been back before) and at home, where she is reunited with Connie (Gerda Nicolson), who worked with her late mother for many years (after the grand old house had been converted into a nursing home for the elderly to try and bring in some money) and the family physician Doctor Barton (Alex Scott). They are cordial enough, but you can feel the awkwardness thick in the air, that it has taken the death of her mother to bring her home, and clearly Linda feels this too. Her old boyfriend Barney (a young and rather handsome John Jarratt, long before his later fame in another Aussie horror, Wolf Creek) is a bit happier to have her back though, so it isn’t all bad.

There’s something off about Montclare though, and not just her mother’s rather chaotic book-keeping, or the sometimes erratic elderly residents, or even the decaying parts of the neglected old mansion (a scene during a rainstorm with a window that won’t close in a leaky attic full of junk and shadows is superbly creepy, leaving you just waiting for something to happen). No, there’s something else – Linda keeps having flashbacks to being a young girl, exploring the gloomy old corridors, and these disturbing dreams start to converge with strange occurrences around the home, sudden power cuts, doors being opened or closed, candles which seem to relight themselves moments after she extinguished them, taps left running flooding the bathroom, but nobody is to be seen, noises of someone moving around at night, and more.

Over the years Next of Kin has garnered a bit of a reputation among horror fans, and it isn’t hard to see why. Likewise it has picked up comparisons to other horror classics, including Argento, and I get that – there are some gorgeous shots here, clever visual motifs, such as using the distinctive staircase to bookend segments, or a terrific tracking shot up past Linda hurrying out of the house, back from her up the stairs and hall to Barton and Collie, who she is growing increasingly distrustful of. Having only recently reviewed the new restored release of Argento’s Opera on here, which is replete with such lovely camerawork, Argento’s deft camerawork sprang to my mind watching Williams’ Next of Kin.

I’ve heard the film mentioned as part of the Ozploitation horror flicks, and while yes, this is an important part of Aussie horror movie history, don’t mistake it for any of the slasher-style films that came from the Land Down Under, this is no B movie, it’s a class piece of work, well-crafted, beautifully shot, taking its time to slowly build a sense of place and characters, then start to gradually increase the sense of discomfort and unease (Williams makes great use of the large, old house itself to accomplish this). For much of the movie it is left to the viewer to wonder if the increasingly unusual events (including a mysterious death of an elderly resident) are supernatural or the actions of some unknown person (or is it just in Linda’s mind, part of her series of disturbed dreams of something odd in the house when she was a child?).

The result is a slowly building layering of atmosphere of increasing unease, knowing something is wrong, but what? Who can Linda trust? It’s a terrific, old-school example of refusing to dive into cheap jump shocks or instant gore, instead establish story, atmosphere and then turn the screws, pulling the audience deeper into the feel of the story. As the third reel starts all that careful build-up pays off, and special mention must also be made of Kerin, who takes her Linda from vibrant young woman, to worried and disturbed, to terrified and horrified, a lovely bit of acting.

Second Sight have, once more, taken a neglected classic and given it the royal treatment – this formerly hard to get hold of Aussie horror gem gets the high-definition treatment, plus a slew of extras, including commentary tracks from director Tony Williams, plus commentary from several of the main cast, some of Williams’ short film, deleted scenes, trailers, gallery and more.

Next of Kin is released by Second Sight on Blu-Ray, on-demand and download from March 25th.

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