A terrified woman runs through Australian bushland, pursued by a grotesquely masked man with a scythe who, when about to kill her, is himself attacked – and eviscerated – by another masked man who then carries the woman off. We do not yet know what exactly is going on in the prologue to Tony D’Aquino’s feature debut The Furies, but we do know that it is, with its tooled-up mute men in masks and its fugitive women in peril, dressed in the familiar attire of genre cinema, and playing out to a conventionalised gender divide of male aggressor and female victim. Yet this dynamic is subverted by the film’s title, which alludes to the infernal goddesses of wrathful vengeance from Greek mythology, and it will – eventually – be further subverted in what is to come.
We first meet Kayla (Airlie Dodds) and Maddy (Ebony Vagulans) in an underpass, as Maddy is spray-painting its sides. The writing is quite literally on the wall, and there is an obvious significance in the fact that Maddy’s latest scrawled motto reads “Fuck the patriarchy.” They have best friends since childhood, but as their school years are now over and adulthood beckons, they are beginning to drift apart: Maddy is tough and protective, rebellious and fearless, “a fucking loser”; Kayla is smart and ‘gutless’, fragile and conventional, “a coward”. She doesn’t really want to vandalise the wall, and is not sure what message she has to send out into the world anyway. “Either you start breaking some rules,” Maddy advises her, ‘or the rules are going to break you.” Then both young women are violently abducted.
After strange dreams of ocular surgery, Kayla wakes in a black box in the bush, and soon finds other young women, as lost and panicky as herself, and unsure whether to regard each other as allies or enemies. What they do know is that they are the ‘Beauties’ (a label on their black boxes says so) to a number of masked male ‘Beasts’ who are pursuing and brutally murdering them. Meek Kayla seems particularly ill suited to this scenario, not least because her epilepsy causes her regularly to lose consciousness – but the one advantage to her otherwise crippling seizures is that they mysteriously give her momentary glimpses into a Beast’s point of view. In this horrific survival scenario, where the male players too are under constant threat of losing their lives, Kayla joins forces with the home-schooled, child-like Rose (Linda Ngo), and as they look for Maddy, Kayla must learn what the rules are before she can work out how to break them.
Pitched somewhere between Olivier Assayas’ Demonlover (2002), Josh C. Waller’s Raze (2013), Sion Sono’s Tag (2015), Andrés Goteira’s Dhogs (2017) and especially Greg McLean’s The Belko Experiment (2016), The Furies imagines an artificial arena of gladiatorial entertainment and anonymised, objectifying control, and allows its bewlidered characters to try to find a way through this hermetic death trap intact. It is not unlike the internet (“You should never trust someone if you can’t see their real face,” comments Rose, “just because they post nice things…”) or the closed system of patriarchy itself (“It’s a fucked-up world full of fucked-up men”, as the psychopathically self-serving Sheena, played by Taylor Ferguson, observes). Pitting men against women, but also men against men and women against women, The Furies runs different varieties of social bond through the cruel ethics of game theory. It is a violent, gory affair, exposing the ugliness underpinning our civilised makeup. even if Garry Richards’ cinematography aestheticises both the ghostly disorientation of the forest and the wide-open spaces beyond – and if everyone trapped in this hinterland hellhole is running in confused, blinkered circles, unable to see who is truly calling the shots or what even is the point to all their suffering, then in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed truly is queen.
The Furies was seen and reviewed at Arrow Video FrightFest 2019.