We don’t have Spring Break… we have Rage, the first big dose of freedom school-leavers undertake to shed their uniforms and frighten their parents. The locals of Plettenberg Bay may call it en-Rage but it probably wouldn’t be as fun if somebody’s parents weren’t calling the police or telling kids to crank it down. Based on this rite of passage comes Rage, a horror about a group of friends who meet at a coastal holiday home for a debauched celebration of their impending adulthood. After witnessing a disturbing ritual on the beach, their “best holiday ever” starts to unravel as strange symbols appear and they get picked off one by one.
Rage is directed by Jaco Bouwer, best known for Die Spreeus and Dwaalster, and stars Nicole Fortuin, David Viviers, Jane de Wet, Tristan de Beer, Sihle Mnqwazana, Shalima Mkongi and Carel Nel as Albert. Fortuin is best known for Flatland, whose enigmatic quality underpins the take-charge drive of Tamsyn. Viviers is the wallflower, who starts to bloom in the third act. De Wet’s pale blue eyes are haunting and mysterious, making her right at home in Rage. While Nel keeps his nerve and line as the resident creep, Albert, without turning him into a comic sideshow.
Horror has had a renaissance over the last few years and based on its ability to perform on almost any budget, makes sense for an emerging film market. The concept behind Rage follows the pattern of many teen slashers over the years. It may not have the fourth wall breaking element of Scream, the dream-hijacking slasher from A Nightmare on Elm Street, opting to tune into something caught between the worlds of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and I Know What You Did Last Summer. Slashers are a good starting point for horror, using victims instead of roadside attractions to mark the passage of time and keep the story evolving. Instead of reinventing the machete, Rage infuses itself with many modern horrors to give it a fresh spin, including: The Blair Witch Project, Wolf Creek and Midsommar.
The ultimate low budget horror, The Blair Witch Project, was a found footage film about a doomed investigation in the woods. Introducing makeshift wooden occult symbols connects the inspiration, although it has a stronger resonance with the first season of True Detective. Wolf Creek was a devastating horror, based on a true story, which made it even more ghastly. Taking a page from this gritty Australian horror, our would-be Samaritan turns out to be evil and sadistic. Then, one of the strongest influences is from Midsommar. Rage may not have floodlighting but the ritualistic cult sacrifice and hellish holiday are connected by the iconic flower wreaths.
Rage may not be a true original, but it benefits from a fresh young ensemble, stylish cinematography, immersive production design, an unsettling soundtrack and on-location shooting. The diverse, up-and-coming cast have good chemistry and serve as a relevant cross-section of today’s youth culture. While a low budget production, Rage moves with style, intention and precision, capturing the mood of this coastal cult horror. This is accentuated by the chilling soundtrack, composed of tortured disembodied voices. While heavily influenced at points, the production design enhances this genre film, which keeps things grounded by opting to focus on a few key locations.
“Tonight’s going to be a ghoul night…”
This local horror is definitely a step in the right direction. Rage may have some good points and great potential but it has just as many demons. The film’s narrator is sidelined without explanation, there’s little suspense, the characters are distant, the drama is insubstantial, it’s rushed and undermined by horror clichés.
Starting with one character opening up a wild night, this storytelling device is simply embroidery and evaporates. Rage suffers from instant gratification and doesn’t build suspense, simply going from 0-100 without taking the time to milk tension. The ever-present and eerie soundtrack is overused, keeping the audience on high alert, lessening the efficacy of the surprise element. Things just happen without much obstacle or challenge making the character’s actions and decisions seem inconsequential.
While the concept works, the characters are underwritten, not taking the time to build a connection or flesh out a back story. Teen slashers typically have a few of these cypher characters but there’s a problem when your villain is provoking the most empathy. Without this fixed connection, there’s little to sever or lose. To make matters worse, these self-serving and hedonistic kids are too self-absorbed to be likable, only really offering glimmers of depth in the dying embers. Great horror starts as great drama and there’s very little investment into the characters or their motivations beyond wanting to have a wild holiday or be cool.
Subtle horror elements work in the opening scene but going full tilt and trying to maintain that momentum is often too ambitious, unless rewinding the story to a week earlier. It doesn’t seem as though Bouwer had the time to reflect or capture B-roll footage as some “in-the-moment” storytelling problems pan out. Then, the filmmakers actively work against cliché, but there needed to be more breadcrumbs leading up to discovery to avoid feeling contrived. Some of the horror’s story devices unfurl as if relying on the viewer’s collective horror knowledge
Rage is a stylish, gritty, vivid and eerie horror on the surface that looks and sounds the part. While it lacks charm, nuance, suspense and is heavily influenced, making a few wrong turns along the way, these aspects can be overlooked for those wanting to immerse themselves in some mild horror escapism. For the undemanding horror viewer, it has enough good to outweigh the bad. Competent enough to remain respectable, there’s enough evidence to showcase glimmers of the real talent and potential of this film production.
The bottom line: Premature