Review by Paul McMahon – The Distracted Critic
I came across the movie NEEDLE back in 2011, from a list of the best Australian horror films. The list included WOLF CREEK (2005), as well as THE LOVED ONES (2009) and THE TUNNEL (2011), the latter two being films which I’ve reviewed previously.
NEEDLE earned points right off the bat by opening with a real, honest-to-God prologue and not a scene from later in the movie tacked at the beginning to trick you into sticking around. An older man on the phone, agreeing with a smile as an irate former business partner accuses him of betrayal, theft and embezzlement. Interspersed throughout are shots of liquid pouring (first melted wax, then blood), and gears turning—much like the Lionsgate Company intro before the movie begins. We see a wax people-figure being rammed with a fistful of needles, and the old man screams as a huge bloody hole opens in his chest.
Now, a few years later, we meet Ben (Michael Dorman, TRIANGLE, 2009), as he’s pulling a prank on his college professor. After this event, a lawyer shows up and hands him an intricate antique box left over from his father’s estate. He doesn’t know what it is or what it does, so Ben decides to research it online. While Ben has his friends in his dorm room that night, they photograph themselves with the box. Afterward, Ben’s brother Marcus (Travis Fimmel, VIKINGS, 2013) knocks on the door. He’s got a job in town as a police photographer, but Ben is less than excited to see him and shuts the door in his face. Ben starts to get drunk as his friends leave. Mary Matthews (Tahyna Tozzi, JULIA, 2014) stays and comes on to him, but he’s too drunk to do anything about it. Once Ben passes out, leaving her half-naked and frustrated, she pulls the antique box out from under Ben’s bed as we fade to black.
The next morning, Ben shows pictures of the mysterious box to his professor. She determines it’s associated with the Grand Guignol, and it is used to exact revenge when no other avenues exist. Also, she tells him it’s worth an awful lot of money. Ben agrees to let his friend, a school reporter, take photos of the box, but he discovers the space under his bed empty.
We see a basketball practice featuring Ben’s friend Ryan (Nathanial Buzolic, OFFING DAVID, 2008), interspersed with the strange machine shots from the opening scene. At the end of practice, Ryan goes jogging across campus as someone slips his picture into the antique machine. The lights around campus begin exploding, a red-hot needle slashes a wax figure, and Ryan begins screaming.
Marcus shows up to take photos of the body, recognizes Ryan as Ben’s friend, and goes right to Ben’s dorm to fill him in. When another friend is killed the next night, Ben and Marcus team up to uncover not only who stole the machine, but who is using it to bump off Ben’s friends.
Most of the actors here are newcomers even to Australia, where the movie was made. Even director John V. Soto has only two other credits to his name, CRUSH (2009) and THE RECKONING (2014). He handles NEEDLE very well, creating a rare type of horror movie with co-screenwriter Anthony Egan, where the characters actually have a mystery to solve. Ben and Marcus spend their time chasing down leads and clues, uncovering the mystery a little bit at a time. It gives viewers a connection to the characters that isn’t there in movies less-well-developed, where we just wait around for the next person to get offed.
The actors are all very good. It has the feel of a group of hungry young people trying to get themselves noticed. For the most part, they succeed. I think they’ve got bright futures ahead of them.
The only actor I recognized was Marcus’s boss, Paul the Coroner, played by John Jarratt. His character in NEEDLE provided comic relief, making jokes about the highly unusual condition of the bodies, but his antics were more than a little unsettling because it was tough to separate the actor from his truly terrifying performances as Mick Taylor in both WOLF CREEK (2005) and WOLF CREEK 2 (2013).
I’m finding more and more that horror movies made in other countries are succeeding far more often than horror movies made under this country’s big production companies. NEEDLE isn’t perfect, but it pulls off most of what it sets out to do and keeps us interested in Ben and Marcus’s progress throughout. Even the ending is satisfying, in that while they leave room for a sequel, they don’t blatantly re-start the horror before the closing credits. It’s always nice to watch a movie that isn’t afraid of letting you fill in some of the gaps without beating you over the head with pertinent details.
I give NEEDLE three and a half knives, with one time-out.
© Copyright 2014 by Paul McMahon
Paul McMahon gives NEEDLE ~three and a half knives.
And one time out!