Flying blood and guts and thrill-a-minute kills make The Furies a fun ride, despite thematic issues.
Australian high schoolers Kayla and Maddie are kidnapped and dumped in the woods with five other women, and are forced to fight for their lives as masked male killers hunt them down.
Director Tony D’Aquino makes the most of the Canberra bushland in which the film was shot in, crafting some immaculate shots alongside his cinematographer Garry Richards. Spatial awareness is also extremely precise, with the location of each character used to create tension in the slasher scenes.
The film is essentially a hyper-violent Hunger Games with some truly creative and shockingly brutal kills sprinkled throughout its runtime. Credit has to be given to D’Aquino and his talented crew including the makeup artists, led by Larry van Duynhoven. Bloodthirsty audience members will be satisfied by their work on the film.
D’Aquino’s passion for horror shines through, as evident by his tongue-in-cheek nods to the genre’s tropes. At times he plays into them, other times the clichés are subverted. As a whole the story is quite formulaic, but the film knows that. Its aesthetic is over-the-top and often times dark humour is present to undercut the horror, but I wish it would have been even more subversive. Never does the film ever feel as intelligent as something like The Cabin in the Woods.
The beautifully grotesque design of the ‘beasts’, the masked killers who are unleashed on the girls, are steeped in the canon of horror iconography. One of the beasts is modelled off Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - a bona fide classic - another is influenced by Friday the 13th Part III, but A’quino is definitely a connoisseur of the genre as he also homages lesser known titles such as The Burning or Motel Hell.
Also excellent is the score by Kirsten Axelholm and Kenneth Lampl. Their music feels at once grandiose and intimate, lying beneath the surface of the bloodbaths, providing suspense when needed.
The performance that carries the movie is given by Airlie Dodds. As Kayla, Dodds exudes charisma. There’s a great deal of range shown in her performance; loyalty, and vulnerability, regret and pain, weakness… slowly shifting into strength throughout the course of the film. One particular moment of sheer raw emotion in which Kayla yells at one of the beasts is a highlight.
Each of the other performances work also work quite well, but I must say, it is in these other characters- not the acting, but the writing of the characters- that lies a major flaw. Part of the intention behind The Furies is to break conventions and showcase female characters (each strong in their own way, good or bad), but far too often these characters fall into stereotypes, therefore defeating the intention. The character of Rose, played by Linda Ngo, falls into frustratingly regressive territory. She can only be described as ‘the socially awkward, sheltered Asian girl’.
Maddie, played by Ebony Vagulans, is a ‘rebellious teenager’. Taylor Ferguson’s Sheena is ‘the bitchy one’. Any attempt at giving these characters depth ends up failing. They are caricatures, nothing more. This wouldn’t be a problem if the film doesn’t attempt frame these girls as real, believable humans, but it does. The script tries so hard to wring genuine psychological drama out of these characters, but instead of gaining a clearer insight into human nature, what we get is cringeworthy dialogue and anger-inducing plot twists.
In one of the first scenes, we are introduced to the protagonists with a shot of Maddie graffitiing ‘FUCK PATRIARCHY’ on a wall. The film’s heart is obviously in the right place, but it doesn’t trust the audience enough to let the message work as subtext.
The Furies wants to be a feminist war cry, and a critique of a male-dominated society. It wants to be like Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge, which I think is a masterpiece, but fails because it wants to entertain the audience through the gruesome slasher thrills while criticising that exact exploitation at the same time. The way the violence is depicted makes it feels like the women are objectified. I mean, the writer/director, the DOP, the makeup artist, the production designer and editor are all male. If all your major heads of departments in the crew are male, there’s really no escaping the male gaze no matter how hard you try.
Ultimately, the film’s central performance and sheer watchability outweighs its flaws. Just don’t take it as seriously as it takes itself, and you’ll have a bloody good time.