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Rage (2023): Film Review

Jaco Bouwer’s Rage is an engaging – if a bit bonkers – slasher film in the spirit of cult horror, but suffers from characters that lack any real depth.

There’s an old saying about throwing enough stuff at a wall until something sticks. That’s pretty much the vibe with Jaco Bouwer’s Rage, a film that has shades of cult, body and slasher horror, all confined within the trappings of a South African teen drama. There’s a lot going on and not a lot of it makes much sense, but it’s so quick to skip to the gory parts that it doesn’t really leave a lot of time for asking questions anyway.

Having just finished school, a group of friends have descended upon a coastal town for a wild weekend of drink, drugs and unexpected ritual sacrifices. Maybe not so much the latter, but Albert’s (Carel Nel) ancestral home soon becomes the setting for a terrifying game of cat-and-mouse for Kyle (Tristan de Beer), Leon (David Viviers), Tamsyn (Nicole Fortuin), Sihle (Shalima Mkongi), Roxy (Jane de Wet) and Neo (Sihle Mnqwazana).

There is very little fat on Jaco Bouwer’s film. At just under 90 minutes, it’s really pacy and pretty much dives straight in to the weird stuff. It goes all in on the horror tropes – creepy old lady at the only shop in town, awkward stranger who gets a little too friendly, strange bleeding twig dolls scattered around town – and it isn’t afraid to dispense with the set-up and get straight to the gore.

And that is simultaneously a good and a bad thing. It means that Rage is really engaging right from the off, imbued with the same off kilter feeling that made films like Ari Aster’s Midsommar really pop. It’s a bit kooky, a bit spooky, and at its core is a slasher that relishes in its gruesomeness. It’s surprisingly gory – and requires a little suspension of disbelief at times – with some hand-wavey explanations about rituals and sacrifices and just what exactly is going on. The fun here is definitely in the chase.

loud and clear reviews Rage (2023) (Reel 2 Reel Films)
Rage (2023) (Reel 2 Reel Films)

But it also means that it feels like we’re in a rush. Perhaps the film’s only real flaw is its characters. The drama – which makes films like Midsommar work so well and feel so powerful – is disposed of at the expense of light body horror. The performances are good, and the group do feel like genuine friends with believable chemistry, but because the film is so lean, it doesn’t give the audience any time to emotionally invest in its human fodder.

As each character faces peril, the interest comes from what is happening and not to who. It may not particularly detract from the enjoyment of the film for audiences looking for a quick spooky fix, but it does mean that it feels a little bit shallow and a little bit unsubstantial to the rest of us. It definitely feels like Bouwer and writer Tertius Kapp want us to root for these kids, but because we don’t get any insight in to who they are – apart from a few cursory introductory lines of voiceover at the beginning – they aren’t as successful as perhaps they could have been. They all sort of fall a bit flat, which is a real shame.

Nonetheless, Rage is a fun, quirky, quick film. It really goes for it, with little fear of being too strange or too odd, trusting its audience to just go with the flow and not ask too many questions. The music, from composer Pierre-Henri Wicomb, leans a little heavy on using heavy breathing, moaning and chanting as percussion, but it still adds atmosphere. Bouwer’s film feels really precise, trimmed to the bare minimum and heavily influenced from the cult horrors that have come before it.

It doesn’t reinvent the creepy twig doll, but it’s certainly a decent effort.

Get it on Apple TV

Rage will be released on digital platform in the UK on 7 August, 2023. Watch Rage!

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