The Onus of Swindon’s Filmmakers

I’ve been invited to watch some horror! After the success of their debut film, Follow the Crows, Swindon filmmakers Alex Secker and Marc Starr have been busy with Onus; I know now what’s behind my sofa…..

Finding it hard to accept it’s been the best part of four years since I received my first “real” journalistic assignment for local news site Index:Wiltshire.

The editor, Craig couldn’t make the press screening for Swindon-made film, Follow the Crows, so with no experience I bumbled my way in with little expectations to find a birthday party-fashioned welcoming to view a compelling dystopian thriller.

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Comparing the team’s new film, Onus, with the latter is inevitable, though through Follow The Crows’ simplicity, this is visually better and more engaging. I’m glad to have been invited to review it and I’m free to assume this time, not just it’s quality, but eerie and divergent conception.

Writer and director, Alex Secker doesn’t settle with convention. For this it receives full marks. Where it differs is in setting and angle. If Follow the Crows goes for a survivalist circumstance within an imaginary post-apocalyptic realm, Onus follows the template of traditional Hammer House horrors of yore, in a sense. If you crave modern Hollywood’s hurtling imagery and non-stop action, this is not for you. Onus creeps up on you, increasingly setting a troubling notion in your psyche. It’s suspense reason for me not to reveal spoilers.

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It certainly achieves what I believe it set out to do; my fingernails are somewhat shorter. This is an unnerving masterpiece which abounds by twisting the cliché of classic horror. Starter for ten, the music, by Graeme Osbourne, assures you an uneasy sitting; I’m shivering before any visual. Yet when it does, despite unsettling sensations, we’re shown a female couple on a car journey through our acceptable local landscape. The driver, haughty Izzy (Erin Leighton) poses somewhat relaxed, taking her subordinate and shy dungaree-wearing girlfriend, Anna, (Daniella Faircloth) to meet her upper-class family. You may know yourself, meeting a lover’s parents can be unnerving at the best of times, with a class difference, doubly so. Izzy asserts her superiority, bantering the nervous Anna by joking her family are “not vampires;” a notion she drives a little too much.

“Onus creeps up on you, increasingly setting a troubling notion in your psyche.”

In true horror fashion the setting is solely the house, the protagonist’s suspicion they’re being deceived builds, and for such, Onus borrows extensively from the chestnut. Secker though is keen to raise social indifferences between classes, the notion of wealth meaning superiority; this only increases the gut-wrenching feeling Anna is out of her depth.

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Suspense drives you to want something to unveil, but it plods on its tension-building ambience for over the hour. Anna’s snowballing anxiety is portrayed perfectly by Daniella with some haunting expressions of despair. You? You’re looking for an escape clause, a knight in shining armour. But if the plot has strands of Little Red Riding Hood, there appears no character who will be Anna’s woodcutter. Izzy’s obnoxiously snobby brother (Alex Pitcher) is clearly in on it, pompously he sniggers at her misfortune; both sibling rivalry and homophonic attitudes abound in his arrogance. The Victorian mother (Karen Payne) is as stiff and a brush, and the ill father (Tony Manders) is shadily the reasoning for her presence at the house. This only leaves the clue-providing maid, (Shaniece Williams) who, treated as a slave of yore, is doubtfully going to heroically strive in. Here within lies the twist, dispelling the cliché horror ending.

So, what begins as a classic horror, ends unexpectedly; like a short story it provides the viewer scope to continue the tale using their own imagination, and for that, Onus rocks.

“Like a short story it provides the viewer scope to continue the tale using their own imagination, and for that, Onus rocks.”

Again, the production of Marcus Starr, the writing, directing and editing of Alex Secker and the acting is sublime. The temperament is undeniably spooky, the setting is dripping with realism, especially being based in the South West. The characters are vivid, Anna is somewhat free-willed rather than helpless, just trapped. The family are genuinely as snooty as you’d expect, and unnervingly mysterious; I feel driven to Facebook message my worries to Daniella, pleading she takes more time in choosing a partner next time, that’s how realistic it is!

And what is more, I think it’s easy to pass my review as flattery, that no locally-based film crew could hope to attain that of the mainstream movie industry, but Follow the Crows is award-winning, Onus deserves to follow suit. I don’t usually do star ratings, as I feel it’s restrictive, but if I did it’d get a four out five at least! You. Need. To. See. It.

The movie has a distributor, High Octane Pictures from LA. “We’re finalising the paperwork,” producer Marc informs me, “they’ll distribute direct in the US and Canada, then sell to the rest of the world.” So, it should be on DVD and blue ray in a couple of months. I’ll keep you in the loop.

“You. Need. To. See. It.”

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Daniella Faircloth in a Shoebox; Unbinding Halloween Chills

It’s been about a year since the editor of Index:Wiltshire sent me to Swindon for the press screening of a new, homemade film. Slightly anxious at the prospect of being among “real” journalists, thought I was in over my head. Instead, I was welcomed by a family atmosphere, with more cakes than journalists (turned out it was the producer’s birthday too.)

 

Immediately I threw off those fears, this isn’t a pretentious Hollywood charade, this is Swindon for crying out loud; only provoking a new concern, how good could a locally made movie really be, would I need to humour wild Swindonian thespians?

 

Turned out I was pleasantly surprised, the film, Follow the Crows, was superb, but my bag of nerves not through yet. An unidentified apocalyptic event threw an oddball bunch of survivors into a baron wilderness, each with their own vicious agenda; the plot of the film unnerving when surreally, you’re sitting amidst the actors playing these fruitcakes.

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At the movie’s close I stumbled up in awe, cake crumbs scattered the floor; this was an awesome film and I felt honoured, as if I was initiated into a secret gang with this exclusive preview. But meeting the actors and one actress, Danielle Faircloth, who I’d just seen at daggers with each other on the screen, I had to acknowledge it was just an act; that’s what these guys do, and very realistically too. This exceptionally talented bunch weren’t about to carve me up over a tin of spam. No, we just shook hands and chatted amicably.

 

I have maximum respect for those who can so convincingly act, my personal performing career peaked when my Shakin’ Stevens impression gained me first place at the Cub Scout pack holiday talent show, the rest has been downhill since (I probably didn’t need to mention that.)

 

The Producer of Follow the Crows, Marcus Starr, explained a lot more work was needed to perfect the sound, and as I write this I’m pleased to announce the team claim a release date is imminent. More on this news as and when, but today I wanted to make a point, and introduce Swindon’s cosy, Shoebox Theatre.

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The Shoebox Theatre is a space in Theatre Square for talented performers, writers, musicians and directors to develop, train, and showcase their work, in hope of bringing something different and exciting to audiences of Swindon. And with the talents of Danielle heading a mature themed horror play, by resident theatre company, the Wrong Shoes, called The Unbinding, I’m rest assured this will be a supreme Halloween indulgence.

 

With a local component, The Unbinding devised from historical accounts of witches from Wiltshire; the play explores mob-mentality and our insatiable need to punish those who are different. Accused of witchcraft, four women are locked together, to await their sentence in the shadows. Scared and hungry they don’t know who they can trust, or who will survive.

 

It promises to be an intense performance, featuring stark realism, horror, physical theatre, strobe lights, and containing scenes of a sexual nature, with violence, and strong language some viewers may find disturbing; has to be scarier than wandering the streets collecting Haribo.

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Book your tickets for The Unbinding, opening on Halloween (31st Oct) and running until 4th November at the Shoebox Theatre via www.theunbinding.co.uk

 

The only thing not scary is the price; tickets at a tenner. Plus, you’ll be supporting the Wrong Shoes at the Shoebox Theatre, who, as well as creating theatre, the registered charity since 2015, also provides educational opportunities for people in Swindon and the surrounding areas to engage in original, contemporary theatre, both as performance makers and as audiences.

 

Look out for ingeniously titled, Much Ado About Puffin too, a performance for the children. Using skilful puppetry, beautiful music, and good old fashioned storytelling, Much Ado About Puffin is about old habits, new friendships and stepping out into the unknown, and runs this Saturday, 14th October.

 

For more information and other performances by the Shoebox Theatre: https://www.shoeboxtheatre.org.uk/

 

But don’t take my word for it; listen to Billie!