Nightstream 2021 Review: Alison’s Birthday

  • Director: Ian Coughlan
  • Writer: Ian Coughlan
  • Stars: Joanne Samuel, Lou Brown, Bunney Brooke, John Bluthal


Playing as part of Nightstream’s retro section this year specialising in folk horror, Alison’s Birthday a rare Australian folk horror film that is seeing the light of day again through Severin Films, is an interesting yet wildly uneven film. The ideas and plot points pre date an entire slew of similar modern films and it’s further proof that there rarely is anything brand new in cinema.

The film opens with the titular Alison (Joanne Samuel) and two school girls trying to perform a séance. A makeshift séance with scrabble tiles to boot, when a spirit enters the room and possesses one of the girls she becomes a conduit for Alison’s dead father warning her about her nineteenth birthday. We then jump forward in time to see a nearly nineteen year old Alison get invited back to the home for her birthday. Hesitant to spend time alone with off putting Aunt Jennifer (Brooke) and Uncle Dean (Bluthal) she invites her boyfriend Peter (Brown) with her. Alison realises something is not quite right but will she be able to leave before her nineteen birthday arrives.

The opening scene is fantastic, despite the budget they throw everything into it. Crazy acting and really crackling energy but unfortunately nothing else that follows lives up to that promise. The ending is good, if not obvious but perhaps this ending would have been a bit more surprising back in 1981. It is very bleak and probably goes against a lot of what came before it but it is a bold choice. The section between the start and finish though only have a few peaks and a bunch of unimportant everyday actions which derail any tension. There is a great little graveyard chase but it is moments like this are few and far between.

The acting is earnest with a few Australian TV stalwarts showing up and the film is directed well. Only in select moments does the film get in a few scares in but there are a couple of entertaining nightmare sequences and some cult stuff too. Whilst it has its issues, I enjoyed Alison’s Birthday and I am very surprised that this kind of film has been remade locally in its home land. If you’re a folk horror fan, you’ll want to give this a look.

Played as part of Nightstream 2021

Ryan Morrissey-Smith | Twitter: @TigersMS78

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