‘The Zone of Interest’, an outstanding, unusual Holocaust drama; Meandering Aussie drama in ‘The Rooster’; ‘Baghead’, a dire, scare-free British horror; ‘Drive-Away Dolls’ a listless road movie crime-comedy

Blissful ignorance: Mother and child share a moment in ‘The Zone of Interest’.

THE ZONE OF INTEREST **** (105 minutes) M
Presenting a distinctly oblique view of the Holocaust that is unnerving, disturbing and utterly compelling, The Zone of Interest is an outstanding film that offers the biggest threat of upset to Oppenheimer at the Oscars.

Much of the film’s drama is banal and sedate as we watch the everyday domestic duties taking place in the large, well-maintained house of SS commander Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel) and his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller).

Wide camera angles cover the cooking, cleaning and gardening, with children playing while Höss attends to his job, doing paperwork and having dull meetings with his colleagues.

Without ceremony or undue emphasis, we realize that the house Höss and his family are living in is located in the middle of the Auschwitz concentration camp, surrounded by high walls that largely keep the occupants safe from seeing the camp, but not at hearing what goes on.

As everybody gets on with their daily routine we get hints of the horrors happening on the other side of the wall. There are screams, gunfire, pillars of smoke billowing from the chimneys of the crematoria.

Written and directed by Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast; Under the Skin) and based on the 2014 novel by Martin Amis, The Zone of Interest demonstrates with chilling effect the power of understatement, how keeping things largely unseen and unremarked upon can heighten their presence.

Tempting though it is to tag the film as unique, The Zone of Interest does share some stylistic similarities with 2015’s Son of Saul, another outstanding film that emphasized the horrors of the Holocaust by keeping them in the background.

Definitely a film for anyone’s must-see list.

Phoenix Raei and Hugo Weaving in ‘The Rooster’.

THE ROOSTER ** (101 minutes) MA
The directorial debut from acclaimed actor Mark Leonard Winter is a meandering mood piece about mental illness and self-imposed isolation that is strong on atmosphere but suffers from a narrative that places eccentricity over story.

While investigating a suicide, rural cop Dan (Phoenix Raei) befriends an eccentric, bitter hermit (Hugo Weaving) ensconced deep in the forest.

Weaving delivers some good moments but the film runs long and the third act is rushed. The cinematography is evocative.

Freya Allan in ‘Baghead’.

BAGHEAD 1/2 (95 minutes) M
Tired, clichéd and monumentally un-scary, Baghead is a dire attempt at a horror movie that plays like one of those films that would suddenly appear unheralded on the new release shelf at your video store. Even the easily scared might find themselves nodding off.

An aimless teen (Freya Allan) inherits an old English pub with bad lighting that has a supernatural being living in the basement that can bring back the dead for two minutes at a time.

With one poor sod (Jeremy Irvine) willing to pay 2000 pounds ($A3850) a pop for a visit one idly ponders while watching this style-free dreck how the film might have turned out as a horror comedy, with the young owner building a business model around her subterranean entity.

Sadly, Baghead isn’t just terrible, it seems oblivious to the rich tradition of British horror, where the duty to deliver scares trumped all else. Sigh.

Margaret Qualley & Geraldine Viswanathan in ‘Drive-Away Dolls’.

DRIVE-AWAY DOLLS * (84 minutes) MA
Urgh. From Ethan Coen – on a solo stint from directing brother Joel – comes Drive-Away Dolls, a listless attempt at a comedy-thriller road movie that is remarkably free of laughs and free of thrills.

Set for no apparent reason in 1999, two young lesbian layabouts (Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan) head off on a road trip down the east coast of America in a purloined car with cargo in the boot that sets two bozo crims in pursuit.

There’s no tension nor much threat here, with psychedelic hippie visuals, a preoccupation with sex toys and Qualley’s constant prattling on about sex and self-pleasuring registering as failed lurches at “edgy” content.

Could have been fun but it’s a bust.

Sorry. No Sale.