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Saturday, 28 February 2015

Throwback (2015) - some classy Aussie Sasquatchploitation!

Beware - there be Sasquatchploitation within this Blu-Ray cover.....
This week I had something of a pleasant surprise. No, I'm afraid Helena Bonham-Carter didn't finally decide to ignore my emails of adoration and agree to meet me for a quick coffee and sandwich at the nearest supermarket (yes I'm a classy guy). The surprise actually concerned the subject of a movie I watched a few days ago. Let me explain.

I'm a sucker (steady on) for a good old 'lost mythical monster who attacks overconfident vulnerable lost souls in the land that time forgot' type of adventure story genre - and if it's not a proper genre description, well it blooming well should be. However, if truth be told, there isn't one solitary  molecule within my physical make-up that actually believes in the reality of such creatures. That non-belief may seem something of a controversial statement to make to some people I've met through writing this blog, because there are many otherwise normal people out there that genuinely believe in this stuff. The fact is that I simply do not believe in Bigfoot/Sasquatch, the Yeti or indeed anything of the like. Nor do I believe that we've already been visited by extra-terrestrials or intrepid time travellers. However I do believe that one day Helena Bonham-Carter will on day fall for my cunning ploy and meet me for that Bacon sandwich & coffee any day now......

I also include in my 'list of disbelief' a certain Loch Ness inhabitant that is purported to exist just 100 miles along the road from me. Nessie doesn't exist and it never has, except that is to feed a grateful local economy (and yes, I have indeed bought a toy Nessie on my visits, so sue me). However, I do love the stories of these mythical creatures, I really do. The only problem is that when low-budget productions make films of any monster genre, the one area of concern is the monster itself. Essentially, a movie lives or dies on the quality of its particular creature - and all too often what should be an excellent piece of film making is all too often let down by the glaringly obvious man-in-a-monster-suit running around trying to be all fierce-like.

Guess who?..........
So I was feeling slightly reticent when Australian director, Travis Bain mentioned that I might be interested in watching and reviewing his brand-new Aussie Sasquatchploitation feature Throwback, which has just been released across the UK on Blu-ray and DVD. However, the reticence I had about watching another potentially problematic low budget Indie monster feature was immediately lessened by the nature of his request. To be frank, the term 'Aussie Sasquatchploitation feature' would be more than enough to grab even my notoriously bad attention span. If Sasquatchploitation isn't an actual term then i may well try and patent it myself......but I'm probably too late as usual.

Anyhoo, Travis then went on to further to pander to my materialistic nature by suggesting that it may be better to watch Throwback on DVD or Blu-Ray instead of a super secret online screener. The reason being that it would enable me to see both the rather extensive range of extras that the release contained and to take full advantage of the stunning locations that the film takes place in. "Hmmm, bold claims indeed" I thought to myself. I decided to take up the challenge and test this claim in my own inimitable way. In the process I also get a free Blu-Ray. Boost!

So how's about I throw a little synopsis your way before I go any further? Ok then.

A fabulous retro-style movie poster for Throwback

"Throwback is about two modern-day Australian treasure hunters, Jack (Shawn Brack) and Kent (Anthony Ring), who go searching for the lost gold of the legendary bushranger "Thunderclap" Newman (Andy Bramble) in the remote jungles of Far North Queensland. But instead of riches, they find a different kind of legend: a ferocious Australian monster known as a Yowie, Australia's answer to Bigfoot, and a savage battle for survival ensues. Thrown into the mix is a feisty park ranger named Rhiannon (Melanie Serafin) and a burnt-out ex-homicide detective named McNab (Vernon Wells).

Inspired by classic Technicolor jungle films such as The Bridge on the River Kwai, Run for the Sun and The African Queen, as well as '70s bigfoot films such as The Legend of Boggy Creekand Creature from Black Lake, with a healthy dash of Predator thrown in."

So is Throwback actually any good? The answer, apart from a couple of areas which don't work quite as well as others, is a resounding yes. I'll discuss the couple of negatives shortly but suffice to say is that I found this a hugely enjoyable cinematic experience. Hence, this was the surprise I mentioned earlier, yes there may or may not be a man in a monster suit, but it works very well. Very well indeed.

As I watched the first few minutes my immediate words were "Thank f*** that I watched this on a high definition Blu-Ray thingy!" It is a definite full-on visual treat. It could be argued I suppose, that having the backdrop of the jaw-dropping Queensland tropical forest as ones movie canvas means that the end result cant help but look good. I would suggest (and I'm certain so would be the film makers) that it would be disingenuous to say so. Yes, while the area  featuring in the film may well be a stunning part of Australia (That's down under, you know) it still has to be filmed with a fair degree of skill and dedication - and boy does Travis Bain succeed in this regard. Quite simply, the cinematography is astonishingly beautiful from the beginning opening shots which immediately show off the landscape in its breathtaking glory.
Nah, nothing much to see here - well apart from the stunning shot, that is....

As you would expect, the overhead shots are typically lovely, showing off the expanse of unbelievable distance and size of the outdoors in this part of the world. It is when we come to the forest's interior scenes that Travis employs  the camera to its full excellent effect, skillfully combining a sense of impending and increasingly dangerous claustrophobic tension and all nicely wrapped up in ever increasingly beautiful woodland landscape. 

I'm not wanting to be overly hyperbolic or sycophantic , but some of the shots produced in Throwback more than hint at a potentially great filming talent here.

Unusually for an Indie movie the cast performances are consistently solid and convincing, particularly from the two male leads, Shawn Brack (Jack) and Anthony Ring (Kent) as the two friends travelling into the deep forest in search of the mythical treasure that had been seemingly abandoned by a legendary Aussie outlaw. ....but we know the real reason why the outlaw left the loot behind, don't we kids? Oh yes we do. Anthony Ring seems particularly to revel in his role as the decidedly more 'complex' of the two main characters.

Vernon Wells going native
In addition, genre aficionados will be delighted (as I certainly was) to see the legend himself that is Vernon Wells to appear in the proceedings as a particularly eccentric police officer. It must have been something of a coup for Travis to have landed the instantly recognisable face from amongst such movie behemoths as Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, Commando, Inner Space, and Weird Science , to name but a few.

Perhaps best of all is the role of the of the fabled Yowie itself. As previously mentioned, far too often a good monster film is suddenly let down when the creature itself, or rather a a badly filmed man-in-a-suit appears on screen. Thankfully, the Yowie is filmed skillfully, with only fleeting glimpses of the creature that contrives to provide a convincing and chilling monster. It seems that Travis knows his move making history rather well in taking in the influence of Spielberg and Ridley Scott in 'showing the audience less in order to create more'. 

The regular couple of readers of this blog will no doubt recoil in disbelief when they hear that I've undertaken a reasonable amount of research for this piece - don't worry it won't last. I'm sure I'll be back before too long to my usual flying by the seat of ones pants in a kind of making it up as one goes along sort of way. The thing is that I noticed early on when doing some reading on the filming of Throwback that the filming process had taken an unusually long time - approximately two years in all. 

This lends itself to perhaps one of the minor criticisms of Throwback is that the pacing, particularly in parts of the films middle  section, occasionally falters, not in any majorly destructive way, but just enough to detract slightly from the overall enjoyment. However, after the said research, I'm full of admiration for the dedication and sheer tenacity of Travis and his crew for not only managing to finish the film, but also to limit as much as possible any major detrimental effects on the final product. 

I can't imagine the headaches & chaos for a low budget filming process that the leading actress falling pregnant halfway during filming must have caused, but it must have almost been a deal breaker in terms of even finishing the film. As a consequence large sections of Throwback had to be restructured and rewritten to accommodate the fact that half the actress's scenes hadn't yet been filmed. I'm firmly of the opinion that this contrived to make what could have been a great film merely a very good film and its to Travis' credit that he has never used this as an excuse for any effects the convoluted filming process may have had the final product.

Yowies can't go in the water, right.......right??!!
So considering the filming problems encountered the movie needs to be commended in being constantly entertaining and containing a number of exciting set pieces, a couple of which include the mandatory inclusion of imaginative and amusing ways of killing and dismembering. I would say that while the movie cheerfully delivers in providing a good level of genuine thrills and chills there is a constant feeling that the level of horror could have been increased a little. I would suggest that Throwback is more 'adventure' movie rather than horror movie. This however is but a minor negative consideration in what is mostly a fun-filled roller coaster of an adventure experience.

All in all Throwback is a visually stunning film that, while never taking itself overly seriously, nevertheless succeeds in producing more than enough thrills and chills to satisfy  those of us who love a damn good monster movie - and this is a damn good monster movie. It may not be perfect, however what imperfections there are may well be due more to a combination of the original budgetary constraints and unexpected cast and filming problems than to any lack of talent on the filmmakers part.

I always view with an element of suspicion those who say " blah blah blah is worth the cost of the thing on its own". However in this case I will throw aside any sense of hypocrisy, because the array of extras available here on their own would genuinely be worth the price of the DVD.

DVD Extra Features

Behind the scenes

Disaster for Shawn Brack as he loses out in the Semi-finals
of the Queensland 'Simon Says' championship.
If there was ever a University tutorial masterclass in how to make a series of informative and fascinating series of of 'making of' pieces to accompany a DVD, then this should be included. The clips (all seven of them) not only serve to inform the viewer of the complex logistical task of filming a low-budget film in often challenging conditions, the result also further shows off the frankly stunning environment of the bush (that's an Aussie term for forest, you know) in all its glory. In total the clips on their own add up to oven an hour of genuinely fascinating and illuminating viewing experience.

Alternative Ending

When the movie played to a test audience the reaction to the original ending was, I'm led to believe, less than enthusiastically received. As a consequence Travis filmed a new ending with a bit more bang for your money. I must admit that I like both versions for very different reasons.

This did get me thinking about this 'test screening' malarkey and wondering whether I should employ a similar device when writing my blog articles. Maybe getting somebody to read them first and point out the numerous inaccuracies, omissions, spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes and overall woolly and rambling narrative might be a good thing. Hmmmm, on the other hand, maybe not - I don't think that anybody has THAT much time on their hands.

Shawn redeems himself in the final of the 
Queensland 'standing still like a statue' competition.
Audio Commentary

Another slice of of informative and entertaining insight into the filming process and the particular challengers faced by the low-budget Indie filmmaker is provided with a nice commentary featuring Travis and actor Shawn Brack (kent). As something of a compulsive nerdy commentary lover, it's refreshing to hear a genuinely enjoyable narration. All too often with some films, what comes across is the obvious feeling from this involved that the commentary is nothing more than a contractual obligation that needs to be simply got out of the way. Not only are there interesting nuggets of information about the numerous challenges they faced in actually putting the film together, there are also some very funny stories of the experience of working with Vernon Wells and dealing with on set pregnancies.

Travis Bain short films 

In addition to the Throwback related extras there is the inclusion of three earlier short films made by Travis Bain. Each of the shorts; Daniel's Jack, Full Moon, Dirty Laundry and Parrot Ice Tours provide a nice snapshot of Travis's maturing directional style.

If that wasn't enough there is still awaiting a veritable plethora of tasty Throwback extra morsels to experience such as Famous Monsters Film Festival Q&A and video blogs , Radio interviews, Deleted scenes , Throwback Trailers and the redoubtable Vernon Wells reading as except from Henry Lawson’s The Hairy Man  - All excellent stuff.

Throwback is currently available now in the UK.

The Facebook page for Throwback can be found at

The official website for Throwback can be checked out RIGHT HERE

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