This is a little movie. Not in length. A viewer will feel all 85 minutes of its running time. Rather, The Marshes is a movie filmed with what looks to be a miniscule budget, so writer/director Roger Scott kept everything hemmed in. The film was shot in the Australian wilderness, and sets consist of a small campground and couple of spots for some bloody stuff. There’s not so much as a shack or a hunting blind to be seen anywhere once the production hits the boonies. They left only footprints.
The cast is about as small as one will find in a movie, and they were handed a script with lots and lots of setup, followed by lots and lots of wandering around a marsh.
None of this makes The Marshes a bad movie, but it would take a filmmaker of exceptional talent to make something worthwhile from a screenplay and a budget so barren. It’s a film that struggles to fill out the minimum necessary requirements to being a feature-length horror film. I’m not going to do it, but I would bet that a ruthless cut of this film, say down to about 45 minutes or so, would make for a much better short film.
From 2018, The Marshes follows three biologists who head into a marshland to study how changes in the environment are affecting local aquatic wildlife. They are: scientists Pria (Dafna Kronental) and Ben (Mathew Cooper), and undergrad Will (Sam Delich). Their mission: set up camp in the marshes and pour water into and out of plastic bottles. Scott and company put as much thought into the science in this flick as I did that description.
After a couple of days in the wild, strange things begin to occur.
Pria has strange dreams that trick the audience into thinking the plot is moving forward, but just pad the running time. She also runs into a local hunter and his lady friend gutting a wild boar. This is significant because of a small altercation Pria had with the hunter at a gas station early on in the film. The ‘awkward encounter with a local hillbilly at the general store’ is just one of many tropes scattered like breadcrumbs throughout this movie (just like those red herring dream sequences). I won’t bother listing them all, but a nasty drinking game could be made from their abundance.
Could the hunter and his wife be behind whatever threat this film is patiently building towards? Maybe, maybe not. Almost an hour into this film I had no idea where it was going. There’s a scene early on where Ben tells the others that the area they are in was where the historical event that inspired Waltzing Matilda happened, and that the Swagman of the song is rumored to haunt the marshes to this day (there’s the ‘ghost story around a campfire’ trope).
So, whatever danger Scott is laboriously marching his characters toward could be a maniacal redneck, or a supernatural slasher. There’s no way to tell, which is an indictment of the general sparseness of the film, and not the result of excellent storytelling.
When things do kick off, there doesn’t appear to have been enough money to, again, meet the minimum requirements for horror. All gore is just stuff one could buy in the meat department of a grocery store, and there’s little blood to speak of.
Shots of whatever culprit is terrorizing the protagonists are blurred, and characters go in and out of danger on the whims of some bizarre transitions. More than once characters huddle awaiting their fate, then there’s a jump cut and everyone is fine, but dazed, asking themselves, ‘what happened?’ That’s something a viewer might like to know, as well.
For almost an hour and a half, the tropes keep piling up in a movie where little seems to occur. That’s the most impressive feat of filmmaking in The Marshes. This is a film that is so deprived of just about everything needed to make a feature film, that, despite it not being awful, it might have been better for everyone involved to move on until some actual resources could be put behind the project.