There have been precious few ‘found footage’ films in Australia’s filmography. The Tunnel and The Magician come to mind. They exist, but oddly (given the micro-budget nature of the format), we are yet to see an explosion of home-made films pulled together with duct tape and gumption.
Ross Perkins’ immerses himself, his fellow cast mates, and the audience, into the world of home invasion stories with his unsettling film Mad House. The family of a banker is traumatised beyond belief as a trio of meth addicts decide to come a-knockin’ who feel to relinquishing them off their money and belongings is the best thing to do. As the trio come to realise that the digs they’ve made themselves unwelcome in aren’t so bad, they opt to stick it out, gradually torturing the family with their presence. Their egos can’t be contained, deciding to capture the entire experience with their smart phones.
I found Mad House a curious affair. It’s landed on Amazon Prime, and while most viewers will watch it on their home TV setup, the way Perkins has opted to film and edit it suggests that watching it on your own smartphone would be the smarter option. See, in between moments of brutality and tension, he flits between presenting the lock screen image of the phone, or the map app being used to find the house.
Given Mad House won the Best Feature Film prize at the International Mobile Film Festival in San Diego, it stands to reason that Perkins’ is onto something by directing a film that immerses you into the black mirror we so often disappear time with. Additionally, there’s something even more unsettling about watching this on your phone, with headphones in, at night, in your bed. The reality of the film is decidedly immediate and harshly believable, making it one that’ll rattle around in your mind long after watching.
In the moment, the performances are fine, with Perkins giving the villains of the piece more to work with than the victims they so eagerly terrorise and demean. This is low-budget filmmaking to the max, and as such, the script does create a muddled thematic perspective. When they start recording diary-like vlogs, with one recording a message to her unborn child, and another utilising his phone as a way of ticking off the days til death claims him, I couldn’t help but ask, does Perkins want us to sympathise with these villains? This moral ambiguity is worthwhile applauding, even if it feels decidedly imbalanced.
I can see the tendrils of something grander at play here, with the kernel of the concept of the desire of wealth and comfort being touched upon. The victims are unfortunately given little to do and curiously little development, making them mere fodder that screams when prodded or beaten, rather than a proper contrast between the villains and the victims.
Ross Perkins has shown with Mad House that you don’t need a big budget to tell an effective film, and the adage that anyone can be a filmmaker thanks to your mobile phone is proven correct here. As the world of filmmaking is pushed, beaten, morphed, and transmogrified, it’s fascinating to see filmmakers tweak the format for the new technologies that insidiously become part of our lives. If anything, Mad House, just like The Tunnel and The Magician, show the promise and creativity that can be mined with the ‘found footage’ format.
My tip, give this one a watch on your phone and completely immerse yourself in its unsettling vibes.
Director: Ross Perkins
Cast: Ross Perkins, Jess Turner, Aaron Patrick
Writer: Ross Perkins