The Marshes. 2020.
Directed by Roger Scott.
Starring Dafna Kronental, Sam Delich, Mathew Cooper, and Eddie Baroo.
Deep in a remote marshland, three young biologists conduct research but when they encounter evil, science ends and survival begins.
The Marshes is muddier and cloudier than the bog waters actors splash through. Australia’s Roger Scott attempts his own marshland take on Stephen King’s In The Tall Grass – whether intentional or not – but displays uninspired story-building wherewithal. Between eco-horror interference and the reanimation of a “Swagman” urban legend, it’s hard to grasp what’s really going on as nature becomes a paradoxical death trap. Simplicity can be such a beautiful thing, but you can still achieve depth and coherency when trimming 90% of the fat from a film’s meaty carcass. Maybe not if you take Shudder’s latest original as an example, but I promise, it’s been proven true elsewhere.
A trio of biologists travels to a remote location with intentions of research and sample-collecting. Pria (Dafna Kronental) and Ben (Mathew Cooper) have their orders, while Will (Sam Delich) the undergrad assistant lends grunt labor. Will worries at one point about contracting malaria from ecosystem insects, but Pria assures no such infections plague their destination. Ben jokes about a lurking “Swagman” killer, whose ghost whistles while he hunts if you stumble into his remote domain. Two threats that seem completely unreasonable, and yet all three science types find themselves fighting for their lives when a familiar tune starts being heard in the distance.
What’s a Swagman you ask? Let me tell you, since the film doesn’t. “A transient laborer who traveled by foot from farm to farm carrying his in a swag.”
I…where to begin? The Marshes attempts to hook red-herrings that suggest psychological horror before completely abandoning inserted shots of amoebas and bacterial bitties under microscopes. This is after Pria is slurped by a mosquito and she experiences fever dreams that cause restless nights. All signs point to Pria contracting a hazy medical ailment, but once Swagman (Eddie Baroo) appears, the film makes a hard-right into paranormal slasher stalking. There’s keeping audiences in suspense, then there’s flat-out abandoning a narrative you’ve invested ample scene work into. A square peg trying to fit into a circular hole.
This is after we swim through the motions of any outdoorsman survival setup, as The Marshes’ studious triumvirate, of course, fights over love triangle drama. Pria attracted to her hard-bodied helper, Ben warning of teacher/student fraternization. It’s another angle that never comes to fruition, attempting to sustain buildup sequences of water samples and celebratory ethanol shots that lack backstory investment. An interaction with two hunters makes for an isolated standoff – and two more distractions – but their inclusion surfaces no pressure. Pria’s nightly visions are the film’s most interesting element, suggesting something akin to High Tension, if only because it’s the singular idea suppressing generic genre boredom.
Mind you, The Marshes is a film that – I shit you not – endangers its first main victim when he has to, well, take a shit. When you gotta go, you gotta go – even when you’ve just watched “Swagman” murder two innocents. It’s such a lazy workaround, as Pria’s crew finds themselves now stuck within floral marsh growths taller than their heads. No explanation, no escape, a circular alternate universe that keeps leading them back to their starting point. They are stuck within the Swagman’s maze, which you’d know if you picked up that single line of dialogue in the film’s first act.
As slasher elements take over, Swagman hangs his “trophies” from trees and eats their guts. He’s feeding, and it allows Scott one or two close-ups of insides being ripped out via wobbly practical effects (hence the super-shaky camera work). Otherwise, it’s the same repeated glimpses of Pria, Will, and Ben hiding behind another aquatic thicket while Swagman walks by. A definitionless killer without characterization running in the same circles as those caught inside the film’s repetitive undoings. Completely ignorant to its own beginning intentions of teasing Pria’s possible breaking down from within, now the most redundant brand of horror wading frustratingly calmed waters.
What you get are two starkly different yet equally unimpressive halves with National Geographic wildlife transitions thrown in for mood-setting. First, the tensionless data mining worth a few imagined dangers within Pria’s mind as spikes of “aggression.” Second, the frantic race against fate as Swagman prevents anyone from finding safety outside the marsh’s boundaries. Neither ends meet nor make for an inspired take on suggestive themes, as horror drowns under the weight of multiple narrative shortcomings.
Despite sweaty and sunkissed cinematography that engages visual appeal, The Marshes favors incoherency and underdeveloped plotting to a nasty detriment. I hate using the “b” word in reviews, but there’s no way around how bored I felt for lengthy, grueling stretches. Performances are adequately forgettable, further sinking what mucky impressions this thriller hoped to leave behind. Never as sadistic as Wolf Creek, fierce as Rogue, or as challenging as even the most mediocre Ozploitation nightmare. Withered, dull, and unfortunately not something I can recommend.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd (@DoNatoBomb).