Tuesday, 8 May 2012

#35 South Africa — Dust Devil (1992)

Sorry for the delay on this one, university has a way of stopping me from watching films. Note that this review is on the "Final Cut" of the film, which I hear is far superior to the theatrical version.

Perhaps a film where the tagline is "He's not a serial killer, he's much worse" looks a bit out-of-place among the other titles I've reviewed. I might agree with you there, but don't let that put you off watching what is actually a very atmospheric and artistic horror film.

The eponymous villain is a shapeshifter who preys on those who have nothing left in life. When a woman named Wendy runs away from her abusive husband, she picks up the Dust Devil and a series of grisly and surreal events occur.

The plot is fairly predictable, but has a number of interesting features to do with African witchcraft and is set against the background of racial tension in South Africa. But the focus of the film is undoubtedly on the atmosphere rather than the storyline.

Although the genre here is definitely supernatural horror, the film's feel seems influenced by artists such as Sergio Leone and Peter Weir on top of the ones you might expect, like Carpenter, Argento, Fulci and Bava. The result is a slow-paced dreamy haze over supernatural creepy imagery and spatterings of gore. The main components of the former part are Simon Boswell's drifting, haunting score, and Steven Chiver's imaginative, beautiful cinematography.

Stanley's direction is assured and well-paced. Character development segments are mixed up with surreal dream sequences and atmospheric long takes of the desert, making a cohesive and well-structured film.

Unfortunately, the acting lets the film down in some places, especially that of the police captain who is trying to catch the Dust Devil. A lot of it feels unnatural and forced. However, Robert Burke plays the part of the villain excellently, being both cold and intense.

Dust Devil has picked up something of a cult following in recent years and it is easy to see why. Its strong technical aspects and dreamy, haunting atmosphere make it a solid thinking-man's western-tinged horror film. The predictable plot and suspect acting damage it somewhat, but if what I've described sounds like your kind of film, I'd recommend checking it out.