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Carnifex (2022) Review

Carnifex opens with footage of the Australian bushfires of 2019. Arial footage showing the size and expanse of the blazes is matched with a shot showing the stark divide between the two sides of a fire break. Then of animals return to what remains of the forests. Then of a predator, unseen by us but in view of a trail camera, having a wallaby for dinner.

Biologists Ben (Harry Greenwood, Hacksaw Ridge, The Dustwalker) and Grace (Sisi Stringer, Children of the Corn, Mortal Kombat) along with documentary filmmaker Bailey (Alexandra Park,12 Feet Deep, The Royals) head into the Outback to document the return of wildlife to the area. Bailey sees it as a tribute to her brother who died fighting the fires, and Ben wants not only to help the existing species but would love to discover a new one. He should be careful what he wishes for.

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Carnifex is the first feature for both director Sean Lahiff and writer Shanti Gudgeon. Both have plenty of experience to their name, Lahiff primarily as an editor on films that include Jungle, 2067, and Relic, and Gudgeon writing for TV shows such as You’re Skitting Me, and Wolf Creek.

And I give them credit for making Carnifex’s first half move along quickly and entertainingly, despite the fact that not much really happens. Apart from the expected attack on a hunter (Brendan Rock, The Snowtown Murders, Bad Blood), and a couple of jump scares related to regular animals, not a lot happens. The dialogue is kept interesting enough that it doesn’t drag, and I was genuinely surprised when I had to pause it and saw how far into the film I was.

Once they find the trail cam from the opening scenes and some signs of a large, carnivorous creature, the film tightens up and lets cinematographer Kieran Fowler (Terminus, Skinford: Death Sentence) exploit the atmosphere of the dark forest. Composer Michael Darren’s (Video Nasty: The Making of Ribspreader, Time Tremors) use of Aboriginal instruments gave it an additional creepy edge, although I suppose Australians would find them cliché by now.

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I was worried when the script resorted to an annoyingly stupid trope, they see the creature take down a feral goat that looks like a relative of Black Phillip, and they try to get a closer look. This is after Ben has speculated that it’s a particularly nasty predator, the Carnifex, thought to be long extinct. In a nice touch, it’s said to be the inspiration for the mythical drop bear.

Thankfully, once it gets past that, the final half-hour is a solid bit of wilderness horror as the trio tries to get out before the creature renders them extinct. There are several good scares and a surprise or two that help make up for the long wait. Unfortunately, the carnifex itself is a bit of a disappointment. For once the CGI, which though far from state-of-the-art isn’t horrible, doesn’t get the blame.

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The design isn’t particularly frightening or intimidating, and looks more like a scary stuffed toy than a voracious predator. Wisely, Lahiff keeps it off-screen much of the time, relying on sound or a disturbance in the branches to signify its presence. It’s effective when making a sudden, quick pounce from hiding, but is much less effective when we can get a good look at it.

An enjoyable, if somewhat restrained creature feature, Carnifex probably won’t satisfy gorehounds, but other monster movie fans should enjoy it once it arrives in their country. Carnifex is currently available in Australia, New Zealand, and Fuji. No other countries or dates have been announced, but Arclight Films is handling world sales and I would expect it to turn up sooner rather than later. While you wait for it to arrive from down under, FilmTagger can suggest some similar titles.

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