“Is Australian Gothic a thing?” was a question I asked myself many times watching Tony Williams 1982 film Next of Kin (according to a Google search, yes it is). Next of Kin has the hallmarks of Gothic storytelling; an old house, a heroine who may or may not be mentally ill, and of course, the old family secret. There’s a lot of shots of dark hallways. Our heroine Linda constantly reads from her late mother’s diary. Next of Kin takes the Gothic into a modern setting even it doesn’t do that much with it.
This film starts off in familiar territory; Linda’s mother passes away. There is an inheritance, the Victorian style retirement home of Montclare. It’s in the middle of nowhere but this is Australia. If you’re not in a city, you’re in the middle of nowhere. As she goes through her mother’s diaries, Linda suspects something is amiss. There’s strange sounds at night and mysterious deaths. Is her long dead aunt actually alive? Is she haunting Montclare? Or is the doctor and head nurse up to something?
Next of Kin is a slow boil of a film. Not much happens until the ending where everything goes off the rails. This isn’t necessarily a drawback. Mood and atmosphere are important elements in any horror film. Williams’s direction and script don’t infuse this build up with much though. The majority of the film relies on old school scares. There a lot of shots of silhouetted figures. Objects and figures appear in a shot one minute and disappear the next. It’s atmosphere in a creepy old house and that’s about it.
That said when there are genuinely creepy elements, they’re very effective. Williams makes good use of the dolly zoom in hallways. There’s a dreamy, slow motion shot towards the end of Linda running down a staircase to escape the house. He captures the isolation of living in a house where the nearest help is miles away. The discovery of a dead body in a bathtub is an all timer. In fact, this may be the rare horror film not set on a boat where water is a dangerous element. Rain becomes a portent of doom. There’s a lot of drowning deaths in this film. These elements are the closest the film gets to truly being Gothic horror in the modern day.
Something though needs to be said about last 15 or so minutes of the film. To put it lightly and without saying too much, the final scenes are vastly different than the rest of the film. It owes less to the Gothic and more to exploitation filmmaking. These scenes are high energy compared to the simmering madness of the rest of the movie. The best way to describe it is as if that madness finally spills into the rest of the film. It’s not how what you’re expecting but this is what the film builds towards. It’s a surprisingly satisfying ending.
Next of Kin brings Gothic horror into the modern age. There’s times where that sensibility works better than others. The film is more of a curiosity than a lost classic. Still the idea of taking older methods of storytelling into modern age has its place. More horror films could stand to look at storytelling ideas that owe more to literature than other horror films.