Tuesday, September 15, 2015

In short: Next of Kin (1982)

Following the death of her mother, Linda (Jacki Kerin, in a wonderful tour de force performance) inherits the private and rather understaffed – we’re talking herself, one nurse and a regularly visiting doctor here – retirement home her mother and her – also dead – sister had turned the family mansion into to actually be able to repair and keep it. For Linda, inheriting the home means moving back to a place she left a long time ago to do something she doesn’t seem too sure she actually wants to do.

The finances of the place are less than ideal, too, but these things will quickly turn out to be lesser problems. Someone (or is it something?) seems to haunt the house, perhaps echoing things that happened in the home a long time ago, slowly and at first subtly suggesting secrets and threats to Linda. Of course, it’s also possible she’s just losing it.

Given the quality of Next of Kin – an Aussie/Kiwi co-production – it’s quite a disappointment its director Tony Williams didn’t have a career in feature film afterwards, for the film suggests an exceptional talent for the thriller and horror genres.

What is particularly effective about Next of Kin is for how long and how thoughtfully it avoids laying its cards on the table as to what exact sub-genre it belongs to, keeping the audience adeptly insecure: is it a slasher? A ghost story? A film whose main character will turn out to be the movie equivalent of an unreliable narrator? Or is it a “drive the heiress insane” type of thriller? I’m certainly not going to spoil the answer, so let’s just leave it at pointing out how good the film truly is at keeping its audience guessing until the (somewhat overeager) finale comes along. This puts audience is in a situation comparable to that of Linda, who also has to work from assumptions, suggestions, and hints that all just may turn out to be wrong, so it becomes even more easy to identify with her.

Stylistically, Williams keeps things interesting by taking bits and pieces from everywhere. There are moments reminding of the more classy arm of the slasher, a big dollop of the giallo (though without the sleaze), and quite a few moments that – just like the plotting – reminded me a lot of Hammer’s post-Psycho thrillers. In quite an impressive show of magic, Williams also manages to make these on paper somewhat disparate elements come together organically – he’s really using certain stylistic elements to achieve a goal in his own way, and not just quoting other films.

Next of Kin is truly a wonderful film, and one that doesn’t lose more than the first moment of delight once you’ve seen it and know what’s going on.

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