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Australia 2016
Directed by
Cameron Cairnes / Colin Cairnes
80 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Chris Thompson
3.5 stars

Scare Campaign

Synopsis: Showrunner Marcus (Ian Meadows) has been heading up popular Australian prank show Scare Campaign for a number of successful seasons. But when a group of brutal internet pranksters start blending real life thrill kills into their online entertainment, network executive, Vicki (Sigrid Thornton), puts the pressure on the team to raise the stakes or the show will be cancelled. Marcus and his producer, Emma (Meegan Warner) along with his crew, Suze (Cassandra McGrath), Rohan (Josh Quong Tart), JD (Patrick Harvey), and Dick (Jason Geary) start setting up for their biggest prank ever, but quickly find themselves over their heads in a battle for survival when things go horribly wrong.

The Cairnes brothers had a bit of a hit with their first film, 100 Bloody Acres, in 2013 but ironically their success, which manifested itself in a record number of pirated downloads, did not amount to any significant box office. So, perhaps it’s not surprising that, in their second film, the misuse of the internet by an unscrupulous band of pranksters is what threatens the success of hit TV show ‘Scare Campaign’ and sets in motion the events that form the main part of the story. Given the pedigree of the Cairnes brothers, this is not in the realm of recent horror outings like The Babadook (2014) but something with its tongue more firmly planted in its cheek. Still, it’s a lot creepier than 100 Bloody Acres and, consequently, the humour is more knowing and referential of the horror genre.

The conceit of the fictional TV show is well established in the opening scene when a nervy security guard (played nicely by John Brumpton) winds up being terrified by a ghostly intruder during his first night on the job. It’s a prank, of course, but it almost goes terribly wrong until Emma intervenes. In a film where the network is going to insist that, to survive they will need to cross the line, it’s a clever idea to establish where that line is right up front.
Warner, as the conscience of the show and Meadows as it’s reckless boss are good together and when the action moves to their new prank in an abandoned mental asylum (the old Beechworth Asylum – a really good location) things start to get very spooky due, in no small part, to the arrival of Tony their new stooge, played with relish by Steve Mouzakis. From this point on, things get a little shaky as the bodies pile up in the most gruesome of ways and we’re led to wonder which of the grisly deaths are faked and which are for real and, if the real ones really are real, then is it Marcus who’s pushing things that way, or are the internet pranksters hijacking the show – in other words, it all gets a bit convoluted, although not completely in a bad way.

Curiously, the popular television horror series, American Horror Story, created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk is tackling a very similar concept in its sixth season, American Horror Story: Roanoke. Despite their much bigger budgets and heavy hitting cast, it’s a credit to the Cairnes brothers that Scare Campaign holds its own against it. Yes, some (but not all) of the twists might be predictable but the writing is clever, the acting is good, the prosthetics and copious gouts of blood are effective and, most importantly, it’s funny when it’s meant to be funny and scary when it’s meant to be scary – and that’s no bad thing.




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