Observance Blu-ray Review

Hitchcock’s Rear Window filtered through a surrealist landscape of terror

Indie label Artsploitation Films has become fantastic at plucking quality independent films from across the globe and giving them a wider audience. Dedicated to finding “intriguing, unsettling, unpredictable and provocative films” as their calling card, Observance is their latest undiscovered gem. An exercise in psychological terror, Observance is the most unsettling independent thriller in recent memory.

The 2015 Australian film from director Joseph Sims-Dennett is an unnerving thriller that turns Rear Window’s innate voyeurism into a surrealistic nightmare of frightening proportions. Observance is a uniquely sinister thriller built on paranoia and pure dread. Psychological horror is often code for slow and dull. This is not the case with Observance. Observance is a gripping psychological ride in terror that will affect even the most sane, rational viewers. You have been warned.

Reminiscent in some ways of Polanski’s The Tenant, Observance is about a private investigator pushed to his limits. Parker (Lindsay Farris) has been hired by an unknown party to surreptitiously observe a young woman (actress Stephanie King) from an abandoned apartment next door. Parker is simply told to keep observing the woman by his mysterious employer as he records her phone calls and takes photos. Isolated in the squalor of Parker’s hiding place as he watches her, the investigator begins to notice a threatening presence in his recordings. What began as an easy job for Parker becomes a surreal nightmare loaded with palpable tension and fear.

Recalling the films of David Lynch, Observance is a film built to provoke discussion after watching it.

Parker’s chilling descent into madness is perfectly captured in a formidable performance by actor Lindsay Farris. More than anything else, Farris is magnificent at turning Parker into a relatable, sympathetic character for the audience. We slowly learn the reasons behind Parker taking this questionable task and why he sticks with it. It’s a master class in understated command. Observance would not work on any level with a lesser performance. Parker is the heart and soul of Observance.

Director Joseph Sims-Dennett provides no easy answers in Observance. Recalling the films of David Lynch, Observance is a film built to provoke discussion after watching it. It’s a quiet thriller built on psychological terror, but there are scream-worthy moments in the plot. One never quite knows what is actually happening and what are Parker’s delusions. That ambiguity feeds a growing sense of unease.

Despite being an Australian production, Observance was clearly made with an eye on a larger international audience. Its characters all speak in American accents. Since I avoid most information on a film before viewing, I was unaware until after it ended that Observance wasn’t made in America.

The independent thriller has been constructed with a strong hand in all phases of movie craftsmanship that speaks to its high quality. Observance’s direction, scoring, cinematography and acting are all top-notch, reflecting the amount of thought that has gone into it. This is refined filmmaking rarely seen in the horror genre, made for educated movie buffs. Its haunting narrative will stay with you.

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Video

Artsploitation Films offers the 86-minute main feature on a BD-25. It is encoded in adequate AVC video, presented at its intended 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The sinister film is often set in a gloomy apartment with newspapers taped to the windows, so the setting doesn’t lend itself to video that pops with depth and clarity. The highly refined cinematography seen in Observance adds a dark, unsettling tone to the movie but has not been designed with glossy picture quality in mind.

Some banding in the AVC encode is noticeable in a few shots. Compression is generally solid and holds up during darker shots. Black levels are less than perfect with a dull finish. The inconsistent contrast is largely due to drastic changes in lighting between exteriors and interiors, on the rare occasions Parker leaves the apartment.

Observance offers typical picture quality for recent indie productions. Detail and clarity suffer in comparison to the latest films coming out from Hollywood. But, there’s enough resolution and Hi-def verve to separate its 1080P video from lesser formats. This appears to be the film’s best presentation possible on Blu-ray, unfortunately highlighting the production’s limitations.

Audio

Observance receives a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack at 512 kbps. The dialogue-driven thriller isn’t a hugely immersive mix, though its menacing score is heard with excellent ambient presence. The mix is decently mastered with dialogue nicely balanced within the film’s more intense scenes. The classy sound design punches above its weight class, helping to build Observance’s creeping suspense.

Optional English SDH subtitles appear in a white font, remaining inside the scope framing at all times.

Extras

It was disappointing to find little in the way of special features after watching such a riveting psychological thriller. This is a movie begging for more discussion and analysis. Some trailers and a super-brief featurette isn’t going to cut it.

A Preface To Observance (02:36 in HD) – Lead actors Lindsay Farris and Stephanie King each give their impressions of filming Observance. They note the working conditions helped shape the cast and crew’s outlook as they made the movie.

Fever Trailer (00:51 in HD)

The Perfect Husband Trailer (02:20 in HD)

Der Bunker Trailer (02:48 in HD)

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected DoBlu’s editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page.

Due to an error, screen shots are unavailable for this review.