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Starring: Shari Sebbens, Meyne Wyatt, Tessa Rose, Johdeana Mary, Clarence Ryan, Bella Heathcote

Director(s): Jon Bell


Adapted from his award-winning short and made with the producers of The Babadook and Talk to Me, Jon Bell’s debut feature draws from Indigenous lore for a thematically rich supernatural tale that quickly establishes the lurking menace of a child-stealing spirit. Its simmering suspense empathetically builds around the fragile psychology of a new mother, blurring the lines between exhaustion, paranoia, and postpartum depression. In exacerbating her isolation and hopelessness, Bell shrewdly accentuates traditional tools of oppression to reveal a darker allusion to Australia’s stolen generations — the tens of thousands of First Nations children forcibly removed from their families through the government’s assimilation policies — which the filmmaker calls a “massive wound in the psyche of Australia.” The Moogai bears its terrifying resonance out of sublimated trauma

Written By Darren Zakus

Rating: 1 out of 5

The Moogai has an interesting premise in exploring the trauma and horrors of Australia’s Stolen Generations through a horror film centered around an Australian Aboriginal legend akin to the Boogeyman, but a series of poor decisions in the making of the film make this one truly terrible and unsatisfying experience from start to finish.

Films tackling the injustices faced by Aboriginal peoples are important in today’s society, to not only have the audience reflect on the horrors committed in our history, but to keep educating people of them to hopefully help prevent the same from happening again in the future. Australia refers to its mistreatment of Aboriginal children and forcibly removing them from their families and placing them into state run facilities as the Stolen Generations, and it forms the basis of the latest Australian horror film from Jon Bell. Using the traumas of the Stolen Generations as the life force for the film’s titular Moogai, it’s an interesting premise, but sadly one that is never delivered on. While the first half an hour of the film sets up some intriguing tension that if followed through on could have resulted in some great scares, what instead plays out a mashup of horror tropes that is absurd for all the wrong reasons.

The screenplay is full of some of the cheapest tricks in the horror movie playbook ranging from loud noises, a ghost child standing just behind our main character or suddenly appearing right in front of them (which will be triggering for some viewers given that these are the ghosts of dead Aboriginal children), repeatedly dropping a newborn child, or a violent attack, but none of them are delivered with confidence. Each scare feels cheap, only weighed down by a messy screenplay full of painful dialogue and dumb character choices, even within the horror genre where characters are expected to make bad decisions. While having seen members of the cast in other films and knowing that they can act, their performances in The Moogai range from mediocre to bad, never for a second helping out the eye roll inducing screenplay.

To say that The Moogai is underwhelming is putting it nicely, as it truly was one of the most frustrating and disappointing films of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Films about the Stolen Generations deserve a strong screenplay to allow the trauma and horrors of Australia’s Aboriginal’s past to be effectively explored with nuance, grace and compassion, but this film not only fails to do this thematic material justice, it also forgets to develop an entertaining horror film. Not even remotely scary and ineffectively using the oldest tricks of the horror genre to attempt to make the audience jump out of their seats in the cheapest way imaginable, The Moogai suffers due to poor writing, lacklustre performances that feel uncommitted and just a series of frustrating choices both narratively and stylistically that makes for a film that you can skip without hesitation.

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