Living Space might be a small, locally produced independent horror film, but from the moment its jarring opening credit sequence assaults the screen, followed by an impressive roaming crane shot, it’s clear that the audience is at the mercy of a skilful filmmaker. His name is Steven Spiel and the film is an absolute belter.
Two young lovers travelling through Europe find themselves in trouble when they hit and kill a young woman one night on a long stretch of country road. Desperate for help, they wander into a large homestead where the dead woman beneath their car becomes the least of their concerns. They immediately realise that the house possesses secrets when ghostly apparitions of dead women and a terrifying Nazi SS Officer begin tormenting their every move. Unable to escape, they must overcome their fears and figure out the house’s secret to survive the night. What ensues is a relentless haunted-house chiller with one very distinct plot device that sets it apart from the rest… a plot device that is best left unsaid for the benefit of an unsuspecting audience.
While it is overall a straightforward film with many familiar tropes – with undead Nazis and the usual ghostly bumps in the night – it is executed cleverly and effortlessly, with Spiel exploiting the genre’s clichés to maximum effect. At times he relies heavily on jump scares, while at other times creeping the audience out with disturbing images of lurking figures. His camera is controlled at all times and never employs the tacky shaky-cam method that too many horror films do. Each frame is composed with an abundance of colours, shades and light, and unnerving perspective. Spiel never clutters his production design, with settings and atmosphere allowing him to demonstrate his control of horror.
The film’s German setting lends it an international appeal, and were it not for the unnecessarily transparent American accents of the Australian cast, the film’s impact would have been even greater still. I see no reason why these characters needed to be American (aside from potentially appealing to an American market), and feel that having Aussies in such peril would have played out just as effectively, if not more so. Nevertheless, the performances are good, with Georgia Chara (Wentworth) proving to be a particularly strong lead actress. She appeals on screen, transitioning from happy-go-luck tourist to petrified captive as though it were a walk in the park. Veteran actor, and reliable go-to-guy, Andy McPhee (Sons of Anarchy, Wolf Creek) also churns out a fantastic performance as the diabolical German spectre whose penchant for gouging out eyeballs and disembowelling women has the potential to become a franchised boogeyman.
If you take a smidgen of Rocky Horror Picture Show (young couple stranded, big house with the lights on…the guy’s name is Brad – c’mon!), add a touch of Suspiria (the colours, the dreamlike imagery), a dash of Outpost (because Nazis) and a generous amount of The Conjuring (scary ghost shit), then you will begin to get an idea of what this fantastic little film has in store.
Living Space is an exceptional debut feature film by an exciting newcomer. It is an atmospheric, fresh and spirited horror film that flirts with its audience and relishes in its own exploits. Steven Spiel has the attributes of an important emerging talent, and with a first feature as competent as this one, he will be in a similar position to the likes of The Spierig Brothers and James Wan if he plays his cards right.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★★☆