Principal Cast : Mark Healy, Marlee Wilson, Liam Clarke, Thibul Nettle, Kira Wilson, Shabana Azeez, Nick Buckland, Natasha Wanganeen, Gail Morrison, Brad McCarthy, Eva Grzelak.
Synopsis: After witnessing the horrific death of a young woman, the Harris family must face the psychological consequences of leaving her to die.
Shoestring-budget independent horror films don’t come more shoestring than Fate Of The Night, an ultra-low-cost local independent production shot in and around the suburbs of Adelaide. Ostensibly playing as a psychological thriller, this vaguely supernatural horror opus from actor-director Thibul Nettle (Storm Boy) might lack a knockout punch, but makes up for it with conspicuously solid cinematography and a commendably even performance from leading man Mark Healy. Unfortunately, the limits of the film’s small budget mean a lot of the themes of Fate Of The Night’s drowsy monster-movie subject matter aren’t fully realised, and the very rare sighting of whatever it is lurking in the shadows means the impact of the film is diluted considerably, but I can’t help but feel this by-the-bootlaces effort isn’t in many ways just atmospheric enough to justify its viewer-friendly 70 minute running time.
After witnessing the brutal slaughter of a young local girl (Shabana Azeez), the Harris family – father Sean (Mark Healy), his wife Samantha (Marlee Wilson) and their young son Scott (Liam Clarke) – find their lives gradually affected by the darkness of knowing they did nothing to help her. As Samantha gradually sinks into a spiralling depression, and Scott grows violent at school, Sean’s own physical afflictions and fits of rage eventually force him to confront the demon lurking in the shadows of his mind – that there is a deadly wolf creature stalking not just his family but the suburbs around him.
Watching this locally produced effort from a team of independent Adelaide-based filmmakers, co-produced by Nick Buckland under his Scuti Productions shingle, Fate Of The Night’s horror themes are neither bloody enough to thrill, cerebral enough to illicit chills, nor energetic enough to make this a more engaging watch. With stop-start pacing and often wince-inducing performances from a smattering of local talent in supporting roles, the inexplicably titled Fate Of The Night isn’t among the genre’s more effective or affecting entries, and will likely truly satisfy only fans of the talent in front of, and behind the camera. One gets the sense that director Thibul Nettle is a fan of horror films, with parts of the film evoking recent pop-culture entries like Jordan Peele’s Nope or Ari Aster’s Hereditary, only without the knowledge behind the camera to replicate similar dread or unease in a satisfying way. Not, it should be noted, for a lack of trying. Summoning horror tropes with such a limit to the budget is a difficult ask, and faulting the filmmakers for attempting the nigh impossible isn’t appropriate considering the funds to hand; rather, appreciating the embryonic skill with which several of the film’s more effective sequences are achieved would be entirely appropriate.
The urbane setting and familial character roster is as lowbrow and homogeneous a group of victims… er, protagonists as you’ll see, with Mark Healy leading the charge as the emotionally manipulative Sean Harris, alongside Marlee Wilson’s bizarrely confused and increasingly depressed Samantha Harris, and their young son Scott, played with legitimate camera awareness by Liam Clarke. Healy’s character isn’t really fleshed out enough to justify his fits of pique and flashes of anger – is he an abusive husband from the get go or is his anger brought about by a touch of cowardice and force majeure, we’re never really given this information. Despite this, the actor has an easy screen presence and his performance ability is among the most natural of the entire cast. Poor Marlee Wilson gets the chance to inhabit the “has nightmares and sees visions” cliched character, Samantha Harris’ life spiralling into oblivion after leaving Shabana Azeez to die by unseen horrors. It’s this aspect of the film I think Nettle and his cinematographer Justin Eckert (2022’s The Tourist) have the most fun with, and despite the budget again standing in their way of accomplishing some truly terrifying scares both they and actresses Wilson and Azeez do justice to the formulaic script.
Sadly, Matthew Carlson’s screenplay isn’t particularly profound or enlightening, and seems to treat its characters more as pieces of a chess game than actual living human beings. A disconnect between the printed page, the performance of the dialogue, and the screen product, is indicative less of the quality of the script and more about the direction of it, but there’s an overall limited feel to the story and characters no amount of polish can overcome. The film’s suffocating settings and uneven ability to showcase its wares beyond the confines of its low-budget framework works in its favour, with the only real sense of worldly place coming in the drone-shot opening title sequence and a brief interlude at a really shitty goat farm somewhere. This manifests in an equally all-too-brief sequence in a dark back yard that looks as large as a phone booth (remember those?), in the film’s promising final act, which feels like the production suddenly went “woah, we’ve got to shoot something at night here” at some stage and shoehorned in an additional scene.
The film touches on too many genre clichés to list, among them the gradual descent into madness of one primary character, the disbelieving or disinterested secondary characters, and various workplace incidents in which most people would be fired quick-smart. There is, conversely, a splendid sense of visual acumen from Eckert’s camera placement and Nettle does what he can with the small budget and conspicuously restrictive filming locations, which as an amateur cinematographer myself I found enjoyable. Again, faulting the filmmakers for trying to accommodate anything with such a small budget seems like shooting fish in a barrel (or in this case, a werewolf in the forest) but Fate of The Night is what it is.
The film isn’t without its low-budget highlights. A sequence in which Healy’s Sean Harris visits a goat farm, bumps into a strange dude fixing his car (the director himself) and eyeing off bits of gristle smattered about a holding pen, has the hallmarks of a great American South hootenanny horror flick (do I also dare suggest Nettle’s setting of a farmstead is reminiscent of the classic Mad Max sequence of similar eerie intent?), and Healy’s winning performance serves much of the film’s iffy pacing as well as it can. Shabana Azeez makes for a terrific “ghost” presence throughout the film, and spotting local talent like Natasha Wanganeen and Gail Morrison in supporting roles is always enjoyable. The musical score, as well, by a gaggle of local and international talent including Luna Pan and Maria Vertiz, is atmospheric and appropriately haunting.
What I’d love to have seen is a further fleshing out of the main roster of characters, either before or after their incident in a forest, and definitely before their succumbing to the mental anguish suffered via guilt. The film feels both too quick to get to the horror tropes without putting in the work beforehand, and too stuttering and uneven in pace with giving us characters we can care about (or at worst empathise with) before their lives all turn to shit. Extending earlier exposition sequences and really setting the stage for the horror to come might have afforded this film a more effective climactic catharsis.
If anything, Fate of The Night reminded me a lot of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, having that gritty, over-the-shoulder skin-prickle feel to it. I’m on record as disliking Polanski’s classic supernatural horror film, but that should in no way colour my feelings about this film, with the comparison only accorded to the tone and feel of Nettle’s movie rather than the outcome. Whilst hardly likely to set the world alight for reinventing the horror genre, or the monster movie subgenre even, Fate of The Night is a solid, if somewhat disjointed, no-budget showcase of local South Australian talent tackling hoary old tropes and putting an Aussie spin on them.
**Fate of The Night is currently streaming for free (with commercials) on Tubi.