It’s hard to be objective when reviewing a film like Hostile because of its background. 14-year-old Nathan Ambrosioni wrote, directed, part-filmed, acted and edited (phew!) this, his debut feature, when most others twice his age are still worrying about zits and girls. Hostile follows the strange goings on surrounding two young girls who have been adopted, and while it is well played and a fantastic achievement for one of Nathan’s age, this is partly a sturdy found footage film and we have been here before.
The story works as a weird ”what’s what” of the horror genre, with seemingly as many tropes packed in as humanly possible, thought it is clever with them. We have corridor-clad, kohl-eyed demonic urchins, Satanic scribblings on walls, tremulous tarot sessions and enough jump scares to destroy the sofa springs of the more sensitive. The pastiche is unoriginal, but at the same time Ambrosioni knows enough about timing to be able to preserve the intensity of some of the starker moments despite their regularity and (often) obviousness. A particularly nicely done segment sees some violence committed in a realistic, low-fi way (thanks to a good camera setup) that nevertheless spares the graphic detail so as to trick the audience; what could be a punter-placating set piece instead becomes a clever little character study that is infinitely more satisfactory and shocking as a result. Indeed, part of the appeal of the film is its tonal changes, and early standout sequences show little more than shadowy people in deep contemplation, suggesting that the unpredictability of mental illness is far more frightening than something that might pull a silly face and go ‘boo’. Nathan and Fabrice Ambrosioni deserve particular praise for this work and the editing which highlights the psychological processes that underpin the narrative.
Key to the piece’s success is the acting. Luna Belan and Julie Venturelli as Anna and Emilie Langston manage to be convincing both as sweet, loving siblings and for the half of the film where they basically scream, flail and dangle their hair in their eyes. It must be said that Belan in particular has a strong but ultimately gentle presence that helps to maintain interest in the narrative itself, particularly as the found footage style becomes more and more prevalent. Supporting characters are handled somewhat differently, with some early structural sleight of hand with Meredith’s (Shelley Ward) character seeming a little too farfetched for its own good and there is some slightly hollow hysteria from Magali Gouyon (as Jessica) that undermines the gravity of the situation somewhat.
Hostile does repeat tried and tested formulas, but it does so with a level of knowing, almost playful ingenuity that most of the time encourages buy in, rather than boredom, from audiences. It won’t shake the world, but it may give you a devil of a good natured scream for your money. Nathan Ambrosioni has a wonderful eye for little quirks of fear which make him one to watch in future.HOSTILE / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: NATHAN AMBROSIONI / STARRING: LUNA BELAN, JULIE VENUTRELLI, SHELLEY WARD, MAGALI GOUYON, NATHAN AMBROSIONI / RELEASE DATE: TBC