Talk us through it
Mr Utterson, Dr Lanyon, and Mr Enfield gather together for a social evening at the secluded house of Dr Jekyll. Each has memories of visiting the house previously, though those wouldn't be hallmark memories. Dr Jekyll has been discredited for experiments that the establishment found to be completely out of order, and seems to hold Dr Lanyon personally responsible for the issue. Right from the first entrance of the host it's clear Dr Jekyll has a few roos running loose in the top paddock.
As the evening wears on murder is committed, the Butler seems to be increasingly nervous, and who is Mr Hyde? Mr Enfield will find some answers in the wine cellar, but the true horror is waiting in Dr Jekyll's bedroom. Who will survive the night and do we have an adequate supply or Maids, long term employment not being fully guaranteed.
Ready to check what formulas may be lurking in the dark?
Reviewbr> “Can we ever truly understand the complexities of the mind through bio-chemistry” - Dr Lanyon
Director Nathan Hill is of course responsible for the thoroughly excellent feature length movie Tomboys (2009) that showed a Director/Writer more than able to cope with the rigours of psychological horror. In The Strange Game Hill shows the ability to apply his trade to one of the traditional pillars of Western Horror the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde penned by Robert Louis Stevenson back in 1886. There's been a whole bunch of movies based around Stevenson's novella, not the least of which is David de Vries' Carmilla Hyde (2009), so what did Nathan Hill bring to a well appointed table?
For Students of Jekyll and Hyde, brought up on a steady diet of Hammer Studio and American International Pictures adaptations, it's a breath of fresh air to note that Mr Hyde is not presented as some hulking brute of the Kane Hodder variety but is more of the build that Stevenson visualised in the original text. Good things come in small packages, especially in horror movies. There seems to be a misguided belief amongst horror Directors that bigger is better. Witness the absolutely ludicrous casting of Kane Hodder in the titular role of Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield (2007) for an example of this. Nathan Hill avoids the trope, goes back to the source, and succeeds in injecting more terror into his movie via this course of action than would otherwise be achieved. Mr Hyde, only dimly glimpsed, remains Hill's ace card throughout the movie, with the final reveal being high on everyone's agenda while viewing. Give Nathan Hill a three million dollar budget and we could very well get a definitive Jekyll and Hyde, and it would be a Down Under movie!
While it could be argued that Nathan Hill is sticking close to the original source material, the movie does by and largely focus on Mr Utterson's perspective, this isn't a slavish following of Stevenson's lead but is more a modern update of the fable with period trimmings. The movie kicks with a unseen narrator laying down the ground rules, we late learn the narrator is Jekyll, and the idiom is straight out of Stevenson's England rather than modern day Australia. Of course I'm assuming the setting is rural Australia, the where is never stated and as the sun rises is of no overriding importance. Juxtapositioning the language in use is Jekyll typing away on what is clearly a laptop. If we are talking a tale of split personality, then Director Hill is delivered the metaphors, the symbolism, the external modern science versus the establishment. Jekyll is immediately shown as a man living before his time, the rest of the movie stays firmly fixed in a by gone era, who has avenues open to him that the more traditional Dr Lanyon would not dream of. Naturally the price of over reaching science, as horror is apt to inform us, is madness or worse if the Elder Gods are invoked. Jekyll and Hyde is the ultimate mad scientist pushing the boundaries too far. As opposed to Frankenstein: or the Modern Prometheus (1818), Mary Shelley's ode to man trying to take the power of God. Nathan Hill fully realises Stevenson's mad science tale while approaching the subject matter in a unique blend of story telling and movie making.
Director Nathan Hill fully understands the core of Robert Louis Stevenson's source novella, and overcomes a modest budget to fully visualise that core. It's a striking achievement.
During his opening gambit Stenhouse goes with a standard two dimensional cartoon style that is traditional in New Zealand animation. See Footrot Flats or Bro' Town for a similar approach to the artwork. It works and sets the audience up for the share mayhem of the middle part of the movie, which comprises the majority of the short's running time. During the Shepherd's ride through hell Stenhouse switches to an almost psychedelic style that merges art in an almost liquid style to give substance to the nightmare the Shepherd is living through. It's the nightmarish quality of things, where even a branch or puddle can morph into something diabolical, that really sets the short up as an experience that the audience will wont to repeat. Director Stenhouse goes over the top with his pacing and things are galloping toward the final statement the movie makes. The shepherd does redeem himself, remember the frog, and perhaps saves his soul if you want to take a more prosaic view of what went down previously.
Due to the short nature of the film, and no doubt not a huge budget, Director Hill narrows the focus of The Strange Game by bringing the main characters together for a single evening at a single location. There are flashbacks, in black and white, to give full body to what has gone down previously but we are pretty much stuck in a large colonial mansion for the duration of the movie. Agatha Christie would have no doubt applauded the decision in a prime and proper English way. The location decision helps The Strange Game's focus on character over action, and for sure a Gothic setting is always going to get my vote of approval. Director Hill makes full use of his resources here with the house bringing an almost haunted atmosphere to things. In one of those horror trivia moments Hill, who did his own location scouting, actually rocked on up to the wrong stately mansion and surprised everyone by getting permission to shot there. He was meant to arrive at another house further up the road!
Gosh this is one of those reviews where the word space seems to evaporate before I can actually get down to things properly. Moving along, trying for a slightly faster pace here.
As a Director Nathan Hill shows his ability to focus tightly on character and allow interactions to move the plot along without needing carefully staged action scenes to propel things to a pre-ordained conclusion. And if you think you know the twist in Hill's short then you are going to be in for a shock, there's a two punch coming at you that will knock your socks off with the implications. Calling Australian Film Finance, hello hot property right here, budget needed for feature length! There are some action scenes coming your way, but they are few and more between, we're talking atmosphere and anticipation of where things might be going, not cars blowing up and gore for gore's sake. Of special note is Hill's use of lighting, outstanding good and once again atmospheric
Hill throws in plenty of fly shots to keep things interesting, fills his frames with almost too intimate close-ups of his characters, and generally constructs a movie that knows where it's going and the best path to get there. Mr Hyde is kept as an ace card, and Hill doesn't wipe that card out from his sleeve till the Audience are well and truly hooked. Just what might be going on behind Dr Jekyll's locked bedroom door is pretty high on Nathan Hill's agenda and he milks that one for all it's worth. Hello Rob Zombie, this is how you create tension and anticipation.
One shot in the movie has me intrigued, it's so out of the blue and apparently throw away that I'm still trying to determine why it was included. During the night time festivities, did I mentioned murdered chamber maids in guests' beds, Hill cuts to outside the Mansion that dripped madness and then has one of those tracking shots where the camera is rushing toward the main building. Neil Marshall, a Director I would compare Nathan Hill to in a very positive fashion, used the same technique in Dog Soldiers. The only reason I can see for the shot inclusion would be as homage to Sam Raimi who pioneered the striking effect in the Evil Dead movies.
Overall Nathan Hill is excellent behind the camera, having an eye for detail and getting every cent's worth out of the locations and Actors, and delivers a script that doesn't falter during the entire running time of the movie.
Carter Doyle (Mr Utterson) was an excellent casting choice and nails the role. Excellent facial expression during close up. Nicholas Wightman delivered what was almost a Bela Lugosi, circa Dracula (1931), performance. Mesmerising, for mine Wightman is Dr Jekyll the dude owned the role. Absolutely stunning performance. Michael Burkett (Mr Hyde), Benjamin Purdie (Dr Lanyon), Fabian Lapham (Poole), and Andy Delves (Mr Enfield), all delivered in supporting roles.
Michael Bell delivers a score that either goes piano driven madness or Hammer Horror style gothic horror as things dictate. Needless to say it matches Nathan Hill's delivery on the ultimate split personality tale.
ScaryMinds Rates this short as ...br> br> Nathan Hill has delivered one of the great short movies with the only fault being it should have been a lot longer.