And it’s a visual treat.
If you’re a horror fan and you aren’t familiar with the films of Lawrie Brewster and Sarah Daly yet, you owe it to yourself to rectify that immediately. Together with their Hex Studios imprint, the pair is responsible for some of the most exciting, original, and visually-arresting genre fare to come out of any region in recent years. The fact that it comes from my homeland of Scotland — which has no film industry for the most part — makes it extra special. On top of that, their mischievous antics also crept into mainstream headlines recently courtesy of a series of hilarious prank videos featuring the feathered monsters from their film oeuvre terrifying members of an unsuspecting public. Those rascals…
That said, while their prankster videos garnered the attention of the general population, the films themselves are no laughing matter. But their capacity to get under the skin and disturb people to their core has captured the hearts and imaginations of their burgeoning fan base, which even includes the Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro and legendary producer Roger Corman. And me, of course, as I included one of their movies in this list of horror films you probably haven’t seen yet. They also recently purchased an old church and turned it into a film studio, with the aim of producing scary and fantastical fright fare like British horror titans Hammer and Amicus before them.
We currently live in an era of pop culture that’s addicted to nostalgia. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t. In the case of Hex Studios’ output, it works; stylistically, their movies are throwbacks to bygone eras of cinema, but the stories are very human, dramatic, thought-provoking, and contemporary. Their 2013 feature-length, Lord of Tears, is an old-school haunted house fare in the vein of The Innocents, with a little bit of folk horror thrown in for good measure. The follow-up, The Unkindness of Ravens, meanwhile, is reminiscent of gritty 70’s thrillers like Straw Dogs, but the story is a mind-bending psychological nightmare fuel that explores modern social issues. Their last movie, The Black Gloves, is pure Gothic noir, though its themes pertaining to gender politics are very refreshing. The aforementioned movies also take place within the same mythological universe, where cosmic entities lurk in the shadows preying on humanity. Lovecraft fans will get a kick out of it.
Which brings me to their latest, Automata, a period-shifting tale featuring fancy costumes, dark hallways, and a creepy human-sized doll. Check out the trailer below.
Automata tells the story of an antique expert sent to authenticate the ‘Infernal Princess’, a 300-year-old clockwork doll with a very notorious history. But it doesn’t take long before he falls under the doll’s spell, and soon he and those he cares about are the targets of dark forces beyond their control.
The trailer doesn’t give much away in the grand scheme of things, but it’s loaded with nightmarish visuals presented in a way that’s like candy for the eyes. Every neon-lit shadow oozes with menace, but the color palettes would make their Italian horror godfathers proud. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found wig-wearing aristocrats creepy, and this doesn’t appear to be painting them in a positive light. Expect some seedy secrets on their part here.
According to Brewster, we can expect “a wild, Gothic thrill-ride inspired by the decadence of Ken Russell’s Gothic, as well as the sensual expressionism of Argento’s Suspiria and Bava’s Black Sabbath. It’s by far the most ambitious film we’ve produced, with a truly epic story that switches between the 1700s and the present day to reveal the truth behind the curse of the ‘Infernal Princess’.”
Daly also alluded to the film’s edgy themes, promising that the movie will deal with some pretty heavy subject matter. “The film explores how someone’s idea of love can be perverted by experience, and how that corruption can echo through the ages. It goes to some very dark places, basically!”
The cast features Jamie Scott-Gordon as the lead who’s in for an ordeal, along with 500 Days of Summer’s Alexandra Nicole Hulme as the clockwork creation. Rounding off the main players are The Danish Girl’s Erich Redman, and Victoria Lucie, an up and coming talent whose work I’m excited to see.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Brewster and Daly’s movies it’s to expect the unexpected. Horror needs more of that. What might appear as a scary doll scaring people movie is undoubtedly going to throw a few surprises into the mix. In the meantime, a Kickstarter campaign has been launched to help with post-production costs, which includes pre-orders, scary toys, and other cool goodies. But while you wait for Automata to arrive, I suggest you check out their other movies and see how good they are for yourself.