Anchor Bay was once a major outlet for cult classics and oddities before streaming and Blu-ray stores were pictured. And hidden among the late distributor’s horde of terrors lurks the New Zealand horror film The locals, the residents. This Kiwi oddity found its way overseas shortly after its theatrical release in 2003, but to date has no online presence or commercial release beyond out of print DVDs. An unfortunate but fitting fate for a film about the ghosts of a forgotten time and place.
Shortcuts are a bad idea in horror. They reduce mileage and time, but they also cause problems. Best friends Grant and Paul (johnny barker, Dwayne Cameron) are victims of their own dangerous detour in Greg Pageis the first and only feature film. When they go on a trip after Grant’s recent breakup, they end up getting lost in the country. The deeper they go into these rural areas, the more Grant and Paul discover the dark secrets of the blood-soaked land and risk becoming one of the film’s namesakes.
An eerie aerial view of the story’s main location – the open countryside with no signs of life – is temporarily disarmed by a more familiar and active environment. Somewhere in metropolitan Auckland, newly single Grant insists on wallowing in his misery until the best brother Paul shows up. They soon load the Subaru with supplies and surfboards, then set off in search of some much-needed distraction.
With such a small cast, The locals, the residents has the opportunity to build the relationship of its two main characters. Grant and Paul’s banter en route to their destination is as natural as it is insightful. The taller, black-haired half of this duo is sensitive and thoughtful, while the smaller dynamo flies near the seat of his pants. Page draws distinct and opposite personalities from Grant and Paul, but he makes sure they’re always on the same page. It’s almost like they can read each other’s thoughts and finish each other’s sentences. The writing of the characters is never so inscrutable; audiences can understand these companions without digging too far below the surface. Their close bond, the fruit of years of friendship, is crucial to the story.
The horror elements become more noticeable once the protagonists reach their pastoral address. The ROAD CLOSED and PRIVATE PROPERTY signs deter an ever-wary Grant, but the sudden appearance of two attractive, flirtatious women changes his tune. There is something strange about Kelly and Lisa (Kate Elliott, Help Walker) as they stop at the entrance to Paul’s shortcut. They’re in full ’80s gear, and Lisa’s drummer looks vintage compared to the men’s modern car. While viewers are no doubt telling them to leave at this point, Grant and Paul have no valid reason to be afraid of Kelly and Lisa. They of course follow them across the bridge without a single thought as to how badly this could end. In fairness though, Grant and Paul have bigger things to worry about as the night unfolds.
Grant and Paul’s real terror begins when they see a murder; Peter McCauleyBill’s character slits a woman’s throat before their eyes. With the car out of service, the unlucky Witnesses must then drive across the country until they eventually go their separate ways. Grant becomes more entangled in homicide after meeting one of the killer’s other victims, Martin (Paul Glover), who for some reason asks him to help dig something up. Meanwhile, Paul crosses paths with Kelly and Lisa again, and the three escape a pair of revheads (David Gibson, Glen Levy).
Now, it seems strange that the main characters would be separated so early in the story, but this time around the gap emphasizes the film’s most important theme. As with all close friends, people get distant from time to time. It is presumed that Grant and Paul did the same and are only now getting back on track. Their brief disunity could be caused by any number of things besides friction: dating, school, work. So having Grant and Paul take personal trips into the wop-wops is a metaphor for their own friendship. Although they have their own problems to deal with, they always end up finding each other.
The locals, the residents is generous in exposition and clues, so the mystery at hand isn’t too difficult to figure out. Audiences will have a solid understanding of what’s going on before the final act appears. They realize a blurred areaSome sort of disturbance in time is responsible for all ghostly happenings. Page, however, manages to wring out a major surprise in the story that feels like a straight punch to the stomach. It’s an emotional turn of events that changes the tone of the film while reaffirming the strengths of Grant and Paul’s relationship.
In the best possible way, The locals, the residents is a friendship film disguised in horror clothes. Page’s supernatural misadventure between two lifelong buds is rich in excitement, authentic performances and, above all, a remarkable depiction of intimacy between male friends. This New Zealand horror film is never scary, but it is a moving story of love and loyalty.
Horrors from elsewhere is a recurring column that highlights a variety of movies from around the world, especially those outside of the United States. Fears may not be universal, but one thing is for sure — a cry is understood, always and everywhere.