Carnifex (2022)

Rating: D-

Dir: Sean Lahiff
Star: Alexandra Park, Simon Stringer, Brendan Rock, Harry Greenwood


Pour one out for our first Roku device, which after more than six years of solid service – especially after we cut the cable – finally gave up the ghost this morning. Thirty bucks later, the new one arrived, and was plugged in, when we got over our shock at how tiny Rokus are these days. [Seriously, it’s less than a quarter the size of its predecessor] The first feature we watched was this, and I wondered if it had been misconfigured in some way, because the image was so dark. Checking reviews though: nope. It was just badly photographed. This might have worked in a theatrical setting. When your movie is unceremoniously dumped onto streaming as a “Tubi original”? Not so much.

Mind you, that I was looking up reviews while this was playing, is never a good sign either. It’s almost impressive how the makers managed to screw up the potential inherent in the premise. This is set in Australia, f’heavens sake! Everything is trying to kill you! What can go wrong? Well, first off, drag out your first hour, filling it with what’s less survival horror, and more like an earnest lecture by an environmental activist. Actually, three of them: documentary film-maker Bailey (Park), who goes into the post-wildfire outback with nature workers Ben (Greenwood) and Grace (Stringer). Their pronouncements make it painfully clear that they care passionately about the fauna. Which is ironic, because certain elements of the fauna clearly do not care about them. Except, perhaps, as lunch.

In particular, the titular creature, a “living fossil” which was supposed to have gone extinct back in the Pleistocene. Wikipedia calls it “the largest carnivorous mammal known to have ever existed in Australia.” However, based on this, from what I can tell by peering into the darkness, it was basically an aggrieved wombat. This is rather less impressive, especially when the execution – again, the little I could see of it – was underwhelming. The bigger risk may be getting bored to death on the slow journey through the wilderness, before the Carnifex shows up. Fake scares from non-threatening wildlife is all this has to offer, between leaden statements like, “But on a serious note, Australia now has more than
100 endangered species, and if we don’t get them help now, they’ll become extinct.”

I did like the use of infra-red cameras, though it feels like they could have been integrated better. Outside of the lighting, for which I blame first-time director Lahiff more, the photography is decent, and the Australian landscapes are undeniably photogenic. This is very thin ice on which to build your movie, especially in the horror genre. I also suspect the ecologically-minded message here is likely undone by the nature of the approach. Even if this works, you are likely to reach the end feeling that the best thing to do with the Australian outback is to take off and nuke the site from orbit. Wildfires are just not reliable enough.