In Greek mythology, The Furies were a group of female deities who took vengeance on men for their various crimes against humanity, most famously depicted as plaintiffs in the third play of Aeschylus’ Oresteia, titled The Eumenides. The orderly court trial portrayed in that ancient work is a far cry from Tony D’Aquino’s The Furies, a bleak but entertainingly gruesome Australian slasher pic with a clumsy social message that luckily stays mostly buried beneath flesh masks and caked blood. A plodding start and an out-of-place epilogue aside, there’s a lot of fun to be had here for horror fans.
After defying the patriarchy with some pointless spray paint under a bridge, two young women are kidnapped from the late-night streets and forced to participate in a murderous game involving several other “beauties” and their beastly counterparts. Abandoned and alone in the woods, Kayla (a steely-eyed Airlie Dodds) discovers that she is being hunted by a group of deranged lunatics who each look like a cross between Friday the 13th‘s Jason and Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. On top of that good news, she is also lacking pills to keep her epilepsy under control, subjecting her to the occasional debilitating fit. The catch? These episodes allow her to see through the eyes of the various roaming maniacs, giving her some clues as to what exactly is going on, and providing a leg up in possibly finding her friend — as well as a way out of this predicament alive.
Kayla soon discovers several other women in the same position, but these ladies have different opinions on whether to team up; some just like being next to someone who runs a little slower. Meanwhile, the brutish dudes in this are also involved in some in-fighting, making for some great butcher-on-butcher action. And their heads sometimes explode — what’s up with that? Still, the majority of the film involves basic slasher hunting and group survival, so don’t expect a lot of story here. Just who orchestrated this “game” and what is the end goal? The Furies leaves that largely unclear until the very end, but that mystery is admittedly a big part of the fun.
Where The Furies mostly stumbles is in its awkward attempts at making a statement about ‘toxic masculinity’ and “crazy men doing crazy things.” Kayla and her crew are thinly sketched, but surely sympathetic; yet, the killers also seem to have been experimented on and forced to partake in this grisly affair against their own will as well. Maybe society is to blame, maybe a comment on class a la Hostel would have worked better, but not enough is shown of whatever overlords are setting the traps and pulling the strings in order to make any underlying connection stick. And a tacked-on finish only serves to fumble that message even more.
However, The Furies succeeds much more at presenting some fascinating group dynamics, smartly muddying the waters when it comes to each woman’s motivation and morality. When a crucial piece of information leads them to think that they just have to be the last one standing, suddenly former allies begin sizing each other up as potential prey. These interactions are a great contrast to the mindless grunting and scythe-slashing that their male counterparts engage in like psychopathic cavemen competing for mates. What does friendship really mean? Is it formed from true loyalty and caring, or just a tool for survival?
Director Tony D’Aquino does a nice job of staging the various set pieces, conveying space and logic that more or less doesn’t include the usual genre convention of a killer appearing behind a victim seemingly out of nowhere, and splattery deaths should elicit more than a few gleeful chuckles in their absurdity. It’s kind of hard to be scared when someone’s face is getting graphically peeled off by an axe, but The Furies also includes some cringe-worthy gross-out moments involving an eyeball that could make some viewers turn away in ghoulish delight. The red stuff stands out even more thanks to a stark, bleached look from cinematographer Garry Richards that emphasizes the ghostly hue of gnarly trees and the filth of an abandoned mine.
By the time the end comes, The Furies has cemented itself as solid slasher with a quick pace and some creative kills. The capable cast is up to the fleshing out their characters despite limited lines, and the shifting group dynamics add an additional element for audiences to get engaged in when someone isn’t swinging an axe. The actual vengeance might not live up to those ancient Greek standards, but the medieval version can be satisfying too.