Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is an award-winning film critic from Melbourne, Australia. She has written for publications including Senses of Cinema, Little White Lies, Overland, The Monthly, 4:3 Film, Meanjin, The Big Issue and Diabolique Magazine, and has written five books on cult, horror and exploitation cinema. She is currently co-editing a book of essays on Elaine May and writing a book on the history of women in the horror genre.


Articles by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas


Filmmaker Alice Foulcher on Collaboration, Multitasking, Fame and THAT’S NOT ME — Interview by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (Exclusive)

alice foulcher white shirtThat’s Not Me, the Australian independent comedy that premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and won audiences awards at both the Sydney Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival, was made with an extraordinarily low budget of $45,000 by filmmakers Gregory Erdstein and Alice Foulcher. Receiving rave reviews from The Guardian and Time Out, the self-funded comedy seems to exemplify a trend in Australian cinema, where creatives are finding alternate ways of making movies outside the orthodox framework of notoriously genre-shy formal, institutionalized funding bodies. The local and international acclaim for Foulcher and Erdstein’s breakout film promises the creative couple a bright future, and Foulcher here takes time to discuss the background of That’s Not Me, her feelings about the film industry in Australia, collaboration, fame and future work. Continue reading…

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SPOTLIGHT January 2018: Mattie Do, Lao Filmmaker, Oscar Contender for DEAREST SISTER

awfjspotlightsmallsmallmattie do buddhistFilmmaker Mattie Do’s very name signifies a series of impressive firsts: Lao’s first woman director and helmer of the first Lao movies to play at international film festivals, and more recently, her latest film Dearest Sister (Nong hak) became the first from the country to be submitted to The Oscars’ Best Foreign Language category. Continue reading…

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THAT’S NOT ME – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

One of the most unexpected delights of Australian cinema in 2017 was Gregory Erdstein and Alice Foulcher’s low-budget comedy That’s Not Me, winning audience favourite awards at both Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals this year and garnering strong, vocal support from film critics around the country. The debut feature by husband-and-wife team Erdstein and Foulcher – who met while students at Melbourne’s esteemed Victorian College of the Arts – wrote the screenplay together, with Erdstein taking on directorial duties while Foulcher played not one but both of the starring roles. Continue reading…

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WARU — Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

waru posterOver a black screen, a young child’s voice states calmly: “When I died, I saw the whole world”. Directed by nine Māori women filmmakers, the opening moments of the New Zealand film Waru are as simple as they are devastating, perfectly capturing in mere seconds the tonal and thematic force of what is to come. Between them, these nine directors tell eight stories – ‘Waru’ is both the name of the departed child and the Māori word for “eight” – of events that transpire at the same time as his tangi or funeral. Each of the film’s eight sections focuses on the experiences of different Māori women at this particular moment in time, held together in a range of ways by Waru himself or what he represents to them, their community or New Zealand more broadly. Continue reading…

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I AM NOT A WITCH – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

i amnot a witch posterIn a year when Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale returned with force to the public consciousness through the Hulu series of the same name, there’s something of its shared focus on ritual and patriarchal oppression that ripples through I am Not a Witch. But the debut feature by Zambian-Welsh filmmaker Rungano Nyoni is a distinctly unique affair, reflecting the cultural specificity of the African context within which her story is set, and a flair for powerful, political black comedy not wholly unlike that of fellow Brit Chris Morris (a point of comparison a few critics have made). At times sincerely moving, bleakly comic, infuriating and heartbreaking, I am Not a Witch is a shrewd interrogation of exploitation, power, gender and national and personal identity. Continue reading…

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WHAT IF IT WORKS? — Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Australian cinema has a curious relationship with romantic comedies. While international
hits like Strictly Ballroom (1992), Muriel's Wedding (1994), and Love and Other Catastrophes
(1996) found the subgenre hitting a commercial and critical sweet spot in the early-mid
1990s, it isn’t a national trend that has been repeated. Australian cinema has generally
since then leant towards darker or more serious subject matter. Filmmaker Romi Trower’s
What if It Works? may not have gained the same traction as its romcom predecessors, but
it’s certainly the little movie that could, winning awards for Best Australian Independent
Film at the 2017 Gold Coast Film Festival in Australia, Best Debut Feature Film at Canada’s
Female Eye Film Festival, and Cinequest’ New Visions Award in San Jose. Continue reading...

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In The Muck of It: The Films of Ann Turner — Profile by Alexandra Heller Nicholas

Ann Turner - Photo by Kristian Gehradte

Ann Turner – Photo by Kristian Gehradte

I’m sitting in a small private booth at the Australian Mediatheque at Melbourne’s Australian Centre for the Moving Image, waiting while an old 16mm film is being set up on a vintage Steenbeck for viewing. It feels like the end of a pilgrimage, the last of Australian author, screenwriter and director Ann Turner’s films I left have to see: this is her 1981 student short, Flesh on Glass, made during her time at the Swinburne Film School (soon to become the Victorian College of the Arts). Continue reading…

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THE VILLAINESS — Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

the villainess posterThe reputation of South Korean genre film has been growing exponentially as a force to be reckoned with. The Cannes Film Festival has proven a fertile space for the release of the best the country has on offer to Western markets, and following the success of Yeon-Sang-ho’s extraordinary zombie film Train to Busan in 2016, Cannes’ Midnight Screenings this year featured Jung Byung-gil’s high-octane female-centred action movie The Villainess. Starring Kim Ok-bin (most immediately recognisable from her performance in Park Chan-wook’s 2009 film Thirst), The Villainess by some accounts received a four-minute standing ovation when it screened at Cannes, fuelled no doubt as much by admiration for the film itself as it was a sheer biological necessity to release the film’s near-palpable, contagious energy. Continue reading…

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SPOTLIGHT July 2017: Claire McCarthy, Filmmaker, OPHELIA

awfjspotlightsmallsmallclaire mccarthy 2Outside Oz, Australian filmmaker Claire McCarthy is known primarily for her 2009 film The Waiting City, starring Radha Mitchell and Joel Edgerton as a couple in disarray as they travel to India to take delivery of a child they have adopted. But McCarthy’s broader filmography even more forcefully underscores why she is the perfect director for the upcoming Ophelia project, Hamlet retold from the perspective of Shakespeare’s iconically tragic ingenue as played by Daisy Ridley. As Michelle Hannett reported from Cannes in May, the film is one of the most highly anticipated for 2018 release. Continue reading…

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ALWAYS SHINE — Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Always Shine opens with a fourth-wall breaking close-up of a threatened woman in a state of visible distress, begging the off-screen male presence not to hurt her. Moments in, it is revealed the context of this scene is a just-as-confrontational audition where the harassment the woman faces in the script blurs with her treatment by the unseen men behind the camera. Read more>>

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RAW — Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

That ambulances were dispatched to TIFF screenings of the French cannibal film Raw to treat traumatised viewers has become as much a part of the general story of director Julia Ducournau’s rise as the film itself. In person, there’s a certain irony to this: she is surely the least likely person to warrant comparisons to someone like William Castle. Read more>>

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THE FAMILY — Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

In Australia, the very words “The Family” still send tremors through those of a certain generation, associated as they are with two notorious scandals in two different states. In the first instance, it was the name given by the press to a group of pedophile killers in Adelaide who during the late 1970s and early 1980s in particular that linked a number of highly regarded professional men to a series of hideous crimes, including five murders. As of 2016, only one of the murders had been solved, and only one arrest had been made despite the speculated involvement of up to ten others. In Melbourne, however, “The Family” evokes different ghosts: a cult (headed by the beautiful, almost ethereal Anne Hamilton-Byrne), linked to a long list of alleged abuses against its members, including children. Read more>>

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CHEVALIER — Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Like a black comedy feminist Deliverance, Athina Rachel Tsangari finds lying within the cracks of masculine performativity an inherent struggle with the omnipresent ‘threat’ of the feminine. Indulging in a luxury fishing holiday on the Aegean Sea, a casual conversation launches what will become a driving obsession for its six protagonists as they establish the ground rules of “Chevalier”, a game whose winner is collectively decided to be the man who is “the best in general”. Read more>>

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