Esoterica (2010)

Sex :
Violence :
Director Sam Barrett
Writers Sam Barrett, Robbie Studsor
Starring James Helm, Melanie Munt, George Shevtsov
Genre Noir
Tagline Murder is never black and white
15 second cap Will is a Private Eye who has just taken on a case that will involve his ex-wife, chainsaw wielding gangster, lunatic fringe art dealers, and psychos.


"Whoever you are you have three seconds to get out of that closet before I start screaming" - Nancy

Will is a Private Eye specialising in surveillance of wayward spouses. When his latest caper goes pear shape he decides to drown his sorrows in a local bar. He meets Claudia, a woman who wants to hire him to dig up the evidence on her husband David, who she believes is doing the dirty with a prostitute. Will is dubious but the money is excellent. Hence he finds himself with camera in a bedroom closet as David and a woman get jiggy with it. Unfort for David there's a knock on the door downstairs. Even worse for Will he has to come out of the closet as the woman knows he's in there, turns out she's his ex-wife Nancy in one of those cosmic coincidences, or is it? While arguing over whether or not Nancy is going to dob him in the couple are surprised by gangsters of all things, who knock them unconscious.

Waking up sometime later Will discovers that he and Nancy are tied up in a vacant lot. An unnamed Gangster proceeds to demonstrate the use of a chainsaw on a victim and informs Will and Nancy that the same will happen to their son if they don't deliver the "box" or if they go to the Police. Seems the Gangsters have confused Will and Nancy with David and Claudia, whose son they have. Will and Nancy decide the only thing they can do is hunt down the box, that's when their real problems begin. Also hot on the trail of the mysterious box is Detective Jack Van Cleef. As the death toll increases about them can Will and Nancy find out what the box is and get it to the Gangsters before the McCulloch is revved up again? A surprising intense movie ensues.

If you want to see a movie about chainsaw massacres, an art sub culture with a few roos loose in the top paddock, and psycho killers, then you are definitely in the right place. Barrett and Studsor throw together a murder mystery filmed in noir style that rivals the most outlandish plot developments one would get from a Guy Ritchie epic. There are a few surprises in the tale here as the plot twists itself inside and out, and I reckon you might just be shocked when you learn what it's all about. One of those movies where you simply are not going to pick the conclusion until the Writers decide to deliver it in impactful style.

Did I mention the movie is presented in black and white? Yes indeedy the whole shooting match comes to you in 1940s glory, it's a complete return to a by gone era, I was half expecting Jimmy Cagney to bounce onto the screen rambling on about dirty rats. Everything is presented in retro glory, check the cars and props, though the language tends more toward the modern, adding an interesting juxtaposition to the movie for your viewing pleasure. I was particular impressed with the light used during one scene to highlight a character's eyes, talk about your Hollywood re-tread, the effect hasn't been used in over fifty years, but still works today for those prepared to enjoy film for film's sake and not as simply a means to waste a couple of hours. Actually the last movie I saw where the technique was used effectively was The Dark Eyes of London, a Bela Lugosi vehicle that rocked the house down. Director Barrett has his 1940s retro on and is kicking goals with.

The movie itself follows the sort of hard-boiled Detective yarn that one would expect Mickey Spillane to come up with on a particular good day of writing. Private Eye, rumbled and not overly successful, takes on a case he knows he shouldn't, and then things go haywire as events spiral out of control. However there's no easy answers here as Barrett and fellow writer Robbie Studsor dabble with some Guy Ritchie sleight of hand, and head things down into a touch of Eli Roth's game playing circa Hostel. Things are never as they appear, and I was surprised at just how nasty the concept of what was going down was when finally revealed. There's no punches being pulled here, but I'll leave that for you to discover yourself when you catch a date with Esoterica.

Barrett shows he can not only make a modern movie but can match the past masters shot for shot in the best noir mystery to have ever been made in Australia

Barrett builds on the promise he made in his debut feature, 2008's No Through Road with a masterful turn behind the camera. Okay it's always going to be a risk shooting in black and white, but the Director here nails the requirements. I was taken with the use of shadow and light, think German expressionist, the constant 1940s retro refrain in the angles and point of views, and the intensity certain scenes were shot in. Sam Barrett knows exactly what he's doing when helming a movie and has this one roped and branded. Okay so you aren't going to get the money shots of modern outings, or the special effects, or indeed the equipment wizardry a Director like Sam Raimi can call on, but what you are going to get is a movie that will have you wanting to rush out and buy a single breast suit. I loved the whole aesthetic going down here, Barrett has made the quintessential Aussie Noir film for the ages and deserves whatever accolades are coming his way.

Before starting to close this review I should also mention gorehounds will be disappointed, there's some violence going down, but it's skilfully handled with the viewer seeing a lot more than is actually shown, to wit the chainsaw scene.

I was surprised by the strength shown by both leads, James Helm (Will) and Melanie Munt (Nancy). With black and white it's all about facial expression in the close ups, both actors nail the requirements and had me nodding my head in approval. Not so sure about George Shevtsov (Jack Van Cleef), his character came off more as Lt. Columbo than Hannibal Lector, think some more work needed to be done to make Van Cleef a truly menacing figure.

Christopher de Groot went buck nekkid wild with the score, ranging from retro work to clear horror influences to some almost beatnik jazz daddy-o. The score is simply amazing, well worth hunting out, and added to the eclectic nature of the movie. de Groot knew exactly what the requirement was here and showed an ability to boldly go where very few composers would be happy to step. Dude is on my Xmas card list.

Sam Barrett with Esoterica shows a marked departure from the themes and outlook of his first movie No Through Road, but doesn't step back from taking a risk with what he is doing. In a world where Hollywood regularly rolls out dark genre fare with all the artistry of a production plant, where the Film Finance people either back saccharine sweet dish water or ethnic minority views no one is interest in, and where even the Indies are starting to throw up cannon fodder, it's fantastic to see Barrett leading the Aussie charge in making movies with impact and originality. Sam Barrett makes us re-evaluate our definitions of what the dark genre actually is, a truism that should make viewers for ever grateful. Full recommendation, get your ya-yas out in retro glory, Esoterica is a cinematic experience not to be missed. Oh full recommendation, what are you doing still reading this review, go catch the movie stat!

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

  Esoterica is the sort of movie that reminds us what cinema is all about.