Wild women with steak knives: MR. WRONG
Editor’s Note: In each Wild women with steak knives Entrance, author Alexandra Heller-Nicolas examines a horror film directed by a woman that has been largely overlooked or forgotten. Read them all here!
Jane Campion is not only New Zealand’s most famous filmmaker; she is surely one of the most famous directors in the world. But it is far from being an anomaly in New Zealand; even if it is all horror, a short film celebrated in a previous column was Kitchen sink by the astonishing Alison McLean. While the film I’m going to talk about today is often considered the first horror feature film directed by a New Zealand woman, that honor actually goes to Melanie Read and her brilliant 1985 film, Test ride, whose release I believe slightly earlier than this film although it was released the same year. It’s more difficult to access, but it’s for another column …
Gaylene Preston Mr. False is a super interesting movie on its own, and for a whole bunch of reasons. From Campion to Peter Jackson to the super bonkers Ant Timpson, New Zealand has always been way above its weight in film production compared to neighboring Australia (I’m Australian so relax – j have the right to say). Frankly, New Zealand has largely shamed its much larger and more populous neighbor for many years. There is even a common joke that if something successful from New Zealand hits the world stage, Australians will often go to great lengths to claim it as their own (to be honest it gets a bit blurry with people. like Jane Campion who, while very New Zealander, has studied and lived in Australia for a long time, and has made a large number of films here and with Australian funding.)
When it comes to New Zealand cinema, Preston is hands down among the best, but it’s interesting to us that it’s not because of her status as a genre director but rather as a documentary maker. Corn Mr. False is a really fun horror movie, make no mistake about it. It follows a young woman called Meg (Heather Bolton) who decides to cut the strings off the apron and move away from her parents to the city in an effort to branch out, gain some independence, and live her own life. With her new job, she almost decides on a whim to indulge in her dream car – a beautiful old vintage Jag – but it’s a decision she quickly regrets. Strange things start to happen when the car is around; she can hear screams while driving, soon discovering that it is the noise of the previous owner of the car that is gone. Things continue to escalate on the weird and spooky front as the film unfolds, where not only Meg but many of those around her are threatened or injured, all tied to the mystery of the haunted car.
The most immediate point of reference here, of course, might first be that of Stephen King. Christine 1983 and the John Carpenter film adaptation of the same name which came out the same year (Lee Gambin’s 2019 book on Christine is a must buy, by the way). But if anyone was seriously trying to dismiss this movie as nothing more than an imitation, I would be comfortable suggesting that they probably hadn’t watched Preston’s movie closely enough. Beyond the Haunted Car premise, these are actually wildly different movies. The main difference, of course, is that as a self-identified feminist filmmaker, Preston made a distinctly self-identified feminist horror film. And as stupid as the idea of a haunted car is, it’s really just the scaffolding here; Mr. False is at its best when it focuses on Meg’s struggle for independence and, as the film continues, on the struggle for independence of the other female characters in the film – let them be alive or dead, and regardless of the success of these struggles.
Mr. False well worth your time if your tastes fall at the intersection of feminist horror movies and haunted automobiles. A refreshing change from those same ten to twenty films that always seemed to be produced on lists of “horror films directed by female directors” that seem oddly comfortable, rarely straying away from the same old, same old. From a contemporary point of view, it may be moving slowly. Still, for me, there’s something precisely about its pace that makes it excellent, intersecting perfectly with its more supernatural elements as it builds itself into a genuinely chilling (and seriously beautifully shot) climax reveal. As we say here in the antipodes, “get it up ya” (translation: you should try).
Gaylene Preston Mr. False (also called Dark of the night) is available for viewing on Vimeo, and you can also visit the movie’s official website here at The Preston site.