Katrina J. Kiely
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Watch Me (2006)
13th Nov 07
Young Tess (Frances Marrington) is a cinema studies student. Her thesis, the role of the voyeur, sees her friend Jill (Katrina J Kiely) rent three dodgy movies to watch from a student they nickname ‘Freakboy’, a.k.a. Taku (producer / co-writer / editor etc. Sam Voutas), who uses his extensive catalogue of hardcore porn to help finance his studies.
Jill doesn’t get to see the three movies. She cops it after watching an e-mail attachment with the accompanying wording ‘Watch Me’. The attachment contains a snuff video. Anyone who opens and watches the attachment ends up dead with their eyes sewn shut courtesy of a spooky red haired lady in a yellow dress. Tess reluctantly approaches Taku to find out more about the dodgy e-mail message that spreads through electronic address books to seek its next victim and to hopefully put a stop to it.
It’s happened to us all, sat there at the PC after a day at work, checking up on that day’s personal emails and there is the odd one that sticks out as not one you were expecting. It is not marked as safe and your mail provider doesn’t recognize the address. Do you open it?
Chances are that a number of you reading would do. But then unlike the characters in Watch Me it’s unlikely that the spam email you have received has a snuff clip attached, that once watched could considerably reduce the possibility of you seeing the next Christmas in.
Co-writer and director Melanie Ansley first gained an appreciation of the horror genre when attending a film studies class showcasing the likes of the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween. It was upon watching Asian horror such as The Ring and Audition that made Ansley realize that she could probably make a horror film, taking a break from the documentary work she had been doing, considering the format ‘deceptively simple’ to do. Within two months she had knocked out her screenplay for Watch Me.
The genesis of the idea came back at the start of 2004 when illegal DVDs filtered into Australia from backpackers returning from Japan and Korea. Ansley, along with co-writer / producer / editor / 2nd unit camera Sam Voutas, (they previously collaborated on science fiction movie Crash Test) threw themselves into watching as many horror films as they could, mainly the latest Spanish thrillers and the odd classic Argento such as Suspiria and um, Sleepless.
Watch Me feels familiar, cribbing wholesale from its J-horror inspirations it’s basic plot of people watching something and then dying courtesy of a spook with long hair is so Ringu / The Ring. It even lifts key scenes from the aforementioned movies such as finding a victim’s body in a cupboard and two girl students, one of who watches something she shouldn’t, both bring to mind the earlier stages. Being so derivative you’d expect the film to fall flat but surprisingly it doesn’t, injecting enough of its own to stop it feeling a complete rip-off.
Normally with lower budget horror fare, the makers opted to go for gore in order to interest their target audience, rather than go for genuine scares. Refreshingly, Ansley and Voutas have opted for suspense, taking time to build things up and not being afraid to have their script dialogue-heavy. After a shaky start the plot finds its groove, maintaining a good pace and keeps the ideas coming so that the viewer remains interested. Budget constraints haven’t hampered the makers; there are enough good ideas here to float it.
Ansley also recognises that what can elevate a genre piece is a great score and effective use of sound. From twinkling piano, to industrial sound effects to conventional rock, the music is one of the movie’s strongest cards. Ansley knew when she came across Melbourne band Jericho, Preuss and Huf that she had the guys to do both her music and sound design especially when they claimed they had access to a llama farm, cowbells and a chainsaw. They were played Goblin tracks to get an idea of the score that they were to create and although what they have produced doesn’t reach the giddy heights of Goblin’s work on Suspiria, it is a damn fine effort nonetheless.
Whilst in the Argento vein Watch Me ‘borrows’ the Italian master’s style of having very prominent colouring to the set / shot. There is a lot of heavy red. Ansley and Voutas may have borrowed a lot from other movies but they know how to employ their steals to good effect. They even get a little Evil Dead-styled camera shot, as it zooms towards a closed door in for good effect and a knowing nod from the viewer.
The quality of acting is generally above par for an independent production. Frances Marrington, a Sporty Spice look-alike, makes for an engaging and likeable lead however she fails to convince when it comes to looking scared. Take the scene where she is bound, eyes taped open and mouth gagged before being exposed to the e-mail attachment. She looks startled but hardly quivering at the prospect of imminent death!
Tanya McHenry as the sinister spook does her best Sadako / Tamara impression, walking backwards and lurking at the end of your bath when you least expect it. She’s all lanky frame and pale skin, really long fingers and contorted movements. She does well with a part that doesn’t really ask a lot from her except to be just that.
Producer / Co-writer Sam Voutas, as Taku a.k.a. Freak Boy, steals the movie’s acting honours. He plays a particular repugnant character and rounds him out so that when he helps Tess you can never really be sure whether he’ll remain a complete shit or not.
Melanie Ansley has stated that she never really saw herself as a director, rather wanted to be an actor. (In fact she gets her noggin on the screen within minutes of the film starting as a news reporter and again later as 'Cop 2'). On the evidence of this feature Ansley has a promising future in feature films showing flair for maintaining suspense and by mixing in her influences to good effect. Not all her ideas come off - the shameful incident in Tess' past feels tacked on and doesn't really move the plot – but fair game for trying.
Word is that she’ll consider a sequel if there is an audience large enough for it otherwise keep your eyes peeled for her planned zombie / serial killer picture set in China. It will definitely be worth a look.