There’s a popular folk song in Australia titled Waltzing Matilda that tells the story of a swagman (an Australian folk archetype who traveled on foot with the barest of necessities in a bag) who was deemed a thief. Before he could get caught, he committed suicide by drowning himself in a pond. He then goes on to haunt the area, and in the song, takes “glee” out of stuffing his bag full of passersby.
Seems ripe for a horror interpretation, yes? Roger Scott did just that, using Waltzing Matilda as an inspiration for his film, The Marshes. The film follows Pria (Dafna Kronental), a biologist whose research and preservation of Australia’s marshlands is leading her to a coveted position. Fellow biologist, Ben (Matthew Cooper), is her competitor for this position. Together, along with undergrad student aide, Will (Sam Delich), they set out to gather a few more samples to assist in their work. What they end up gathering is a fight for survival against an entity that relentlessly hunts them down.
If you’re like me, you went in to The Marshes with barely any knowledge of the film’s plot. What I knew is what I described above. As the film went along, and our protagonists make it into the marsh, so do many red herrings.
Roger Scott successfully sets up many possible scenarios where the story could take us. Hunters show up illegally within the reservation, hunting pigs, and taunting our core group. Tensions rise between Pria and Ben; competitors for a position, yet working within the same area. The protagonists talk of legends in the marshes and the words “rape” and “spirit” are brought up. Pria begins having vivid dreams – or are they? – of being attacked by an unseen force. All of these work as deterrents from the actual creep that ends up stalking Pria, Will, and Ben through an endless maze of ponds, reeds, and beautiful Australian landscapes.
The Marshes spends a good chunk of the film setting up these possibilities, but sort of lags on the development of the characters that we spend that chunk watching. Within the space of 83 minutes, I suppose there’s only so much development that you can give. I believed in their interactions with each other, and in their passion for the environment. Beyond that, there was nothing that would lead me to invest my feels into them.
“…a good story derived from a folk song that delivers the creepy feelings…”
Suit up, get some samples, run into a red herring, desuit, drink a beer, nightly scare for Pria: this was the structure for the first 2/3rds of the film. I found myself getting a little worried that this would be it, and that any possible tension that was being built up would never pay off.
Then bam! Out of a nowhere and with a single off-screen scream, the tension amps up quite a few notches. The protagonists are thrown into the marshes, and are being pursued by a figure carrying a bag full of – well, we get to see exactly what when he strings up one of the hunters by their feet, and viciously scissors out, with a gnarly pair of scissors, what he likes to put in there. The camera doesn’t show us everything that happens, but the sound design of the scissors and flesh ripping does most of the work for us.
Roger Scott crafted a visually stunning film. The shots of the marsh landscapes are wonderful. Trees and insect life are placed – or find themselves placed – perfectly within certain shots. Scott’s eye for nature may come from the fact that he has actually done research in Australia’s marshes. He knew the area, and what to expect from it which was shown as all of it is fully taken advantage of in many different ways.
The Marshes isn’t a film that will drive tensions to the breaking point nor does it introduce anything new. What it does is set up a good story derived from a folk song that delivers the creepy feelings while listening to it, shows that Scott’s eye is keen, and that we should keep our eye on his future projects.
And what about the creep that ends up delivering the film’s antagonist role? Is it a nasty spirit? Is it a swagman? Does Ben take competition a little too far? Catch The Marshes streaming exclusively on Shudder, and find out. Let us know what you thought on our Twitter, reddit, Instagram, or on The Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook.