There’s something to be said for cheesy genre films in the marketplace. At times when I know a studio or film-makers are capable of much better they can be a drag but the entire subgenre of ‘ozploitation’ films was filled with examples of these silly movies that while not brilliant we’re definitely enjoyable to audiences who knew what they were in for.
Girl at the Window is a psychological horror which follows Sam (Ella Newton) who after the death of her father has moved with her mother Barbara (Radha Mitchell) out of the city and to a small country town. Unfortunately at the same time a psychopath dubbed The Clockwork Killer has been stalking the area preying on teens. Sam’s affinity for birdwatching takes a turn as she becomes suspicious of the comings and goings of her new neighbour Chris (Vince Colosimo) and becomes certain that he is hiding something, or somebody, on his property. Convinced that he is in fact the killer she attempts everything she can to prove it before anyone else can be butchered.
Few directors would understand the appeal of ‘ozploitation’ better than director Mark Hartley. Not only has he worked on multiple retrospective documentaries as special features for classic Australian films but many of these movies would not have seen the re-releases that they did had it not been for Hartley’s feature documentary ‘Not Quite Hollywood’ which is largely to thank for the renewed appreciation for an almost forgotten era of Australian film. So he seems a perfect fit to spearhead a movie such as this.
It makes Girl at the Window somewhat of a mysterious film as it is both technically well made at times while at others it comes off as much more amateurish and I found myself of two minds as to whether this was intentional or not. An issue is the tone of the film which ranges from extremely dark to bubbly and comedic at the drop of a hat. For instance the score composed by Jamie Blanks seems completely out of place at times but being that Blanks himself directed the late 90s early 2000s horror cult classics Urban Legend and Valentine I have to assume he knew what he was doing.
Perhaps being that the film’s writers Terrance Hammond & Nicolette Minster are more experienced with comedic writing led to some of the film’s story issues and the plot feeling like its building up to something more spectacular with a protagonist with psychological issues from past trauma mixed with an ‘Aussie Rear Window’ flair. Things which felt to me like they were hints of twists and turns to come often went nowhere or worse endedbin plot holes but at 84 minutes this movie isn’t interested in being any deeper than it needs to be and unfortunately it’s quite predictable as a result.
Radha Mitchell is undoubtedly a great actress and brings her A game in the role of the mother trying to rebuild her life with a troubled daughter but it does feel that she is being held back by the amateurish nature of the film. Colosimo is well placed as the creepy though at the same time charismatic neighbour. Ella Newton is great as Sam but with the film not delving very far into her emotional issues in a believable way she often just comes off as very blasé about the whole ‘my next door neighbour is a psycho killer’ thing.
Where the film really shines for me is in its horror elements. Sadly they are too few and far between however when we actually follow the Clockwork Killer’s path of devastation things feel like they’re finally clicking together a lot more effectively with even the minimal gore effects there are being the real stand out. Added to this the comedic edge which kept slipping to the surface felt a lot more appropriate the more schlocky the film got.
Girl at the Window is better approached knowing that if you’re seeking a serious film look elsewhere. While the story has lofty ideas it can’t quite succeed in accomplishing it excels when it leans more into traditional horror territory. This isn’t exactly a slasher film and I didn’t need a bloodbath but I can’t deny that this movie would have been more enjoyable had it focused more on the thriller and less on the psychological aspects it didn’t seem capable of pulling off.
Review by Kyle McGrath