Stuffings to dish up genre mash this Christmas

Mathew J. Wilkinson on the set of new horror comedy Stuffings

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by MATTHEW EELES

There has been a noticeable absence of Australian Christmas films over the last few decades.

But the upcoming release of Mathew J. Wilkinson’s horror comedy Stuffings indicates a mini Australian Christmas film renaissance with the success of last year’s A Sunburnt Christmas, the pending release of Louis Mandylor’s Christmas Down Under, and the recent announcement of Heath Davis’ Christmess,

“To be honest I never had any intention of making a Christmas film, but there is something really odd about winter themed decorations and songs during the heat of summer that I wanted to explore on film,” Stuffings writer and director Wilkinson tells Cinema Australia.

Two years ago, Wilkinson was driving through the Adelaide Hills and came across a tacky Father Christmas display on the side of the road that he says creeped him out.

“That crazy moment was the inception of Stuffings,” Wilkinson says.

Wilkinson set out to make a horror themed Christmas film in the vein of 80’s slashers like Friday the 13th and Halloween, but wanted to include a modern spin with the kind of black comedy seen in films like Hot Fuzz and Gremlins.

“The idea for the plot came from consumerism and the internet. My idea for my film became the perfect analogy for us wanting more, needing to be more and still living in a disposable world even when we preach global warming and activism. I thought about how much wastage one day creates, even if we declare it a celebration. The horror started to become clear that our ignorance to these traditions is the true villain,” said Wilkinson.

Ognjen Trisic as Stuffings and Daniel Luke Moody as Andy

Regardless of his intention to make a political statement, Wilkinson still wanted to make Stuffings a popcorn film that included many laughs among the horror and mayhem.

Without giving too much away, the film’s synopsis is a hoot: Self obsessed social media influencers camp out in the Adelaide Hills on Christmas Eve only to stumble onto a community hiding a secret tradition to protect the 25th of December.

With a focus on self importance and social media, Wilkinson says Stuffings does contain a subtext about how we’re influenced by certain people online.

“During covid I really started to see the pattern that emerges out of online content,” says Wilkinson.

“I remember when I was back at film school and we looked at a platform like Youtube as the equivalent to Australia’s Funniest Home Videos. The platform is now massive which is great for creators – but it’s the small elements that crept in over time that commercialised everything. Suddenly we have sponsors and adverts and like buttons to click. It became a system, and even though we are aware of that system, we are still slaves to it.”

The style of filmmaking in Stuffings even plays into those online tropes.

“The quality throughout the film intentionally changes, the sound is sometimes direct from a mic the actor is holding. In fact these methods actually allowed me to get away with a lot on no budget. I guess it is ‘stuffed’ full of internet production design elements that now seem common place, and familiar to the viewer,” says Wilkinson.

Daniel Luke Moody as Andy and Kathleen Halligan as Bec in Stuffings.

Stuffings is Wilkinson’s fifth film following his 2010 feature film debut, Don’t Show Mother, and horror comedy, The Nullarbor Nymph, but the Adelaide-based filmmaker says the cast of Stuffings is the best he’s ever worked with. And that’s a huge compliment considering Wilkinson’s two leads, Kathleen Halligan and Daniel Luke Moody, have never acted in a feature film before.

“The entire cast has been delightful. Never had I seen such optimism. I even made sure the extras who showed up were given their shining moment due to their commitment,” says Wilkinson.

“My two leads, Daniel and Kathleen really make the film what it is. They created two very likeable characters and I think audiences will be keen to follow them as they venture into the Adelaide Hills. They were actually one of the first couples to audition for me and I knew immediately that they were my influencers.”

Challenges will come on any shoot, and Wilkinson says he had plenty while making Stuffings.

“The weather was pretty good for the most part, but the Cherry Garden Bushfires came quite close to our location,” Wilkinson tells Cinema Australia.

“It was stinking hot and suddenly the sky changed colour and I remember saying, ‘What interesting lighting, let’s get some shots with this’. A few minutes later our phones were going off alerting us to a nearby bushfire. We packed up and were about to leave the set when the radio reported the winds had changed direction. The funny thing is, the next day it bucketed rain and that’s what actually stopped us filming.”

Actor Adam Bullman, Mathew J. Wilkinson and actor Josh Talbot-Smith blocking out a scene on the set of Stuffings. 

The experience of making Stuffings has left Wilkinson with great memories, and a bunch of new friends.

“I’ve made so many new friends. I’ve also lost lots of friends in this industry. It’s a tough game, people’s dreams get broken. But I’ve loved working with these new faces and I want them to go on and succeeded with bigger projects. They deserve to. I always feel my films are little stepping stones. Ive watched some people come on my sets having no experience and go on to great things. I would never be jealous of that, I love standing on the sideline cheering them on,” says Wilkinson.

Stuffings is currently in post-production and Wilkinson is anticipation a December release just before Christmas.

Keep an eye on cinemaaustralia.com.au for updates.

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