Backtrack (2015): Sixth Sense in the Outback (Review)

Adrien Brody in Backtrack

Backtrack is a splendid combination of horror and mystery. Set in Australia it deals with death, memories and how some things refuse to be forgotten. In some ways it could be seen as  The Sixth Sense in the outback. There are, however, many other films that contribute to this intriguing story and at least one book. (It had overtures of The Survivor by  the late James Herbert.) At least one sound effect came from Takashi Shimizu‘s The Grudge and it scared just as effectively  in this  film as the one  it originated in. 

Written and directed by Michael Petroni (The Rite, Queen of the Damned) Backtrack is first and foremost a mystery.  Starring Adrien BrodySam Neill and Robin McLeavy the film slips the horror in where it fits. Sometimes resulting in a good old “jump scare” and other times leaving the viewer disturbed and not a little creeped out. 

Before singing Brody’s praises (he does a marvelously understated Aussie accent that is spot on) let us look at McLeavy.  This actress is no stranger to the horror genre. Her second feature length film was the brilliantly brutal and quirky The Loved Ones (2009). She was also in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (which really is rather schlocky compared to this offering) and while she “plays it straight” here she does her usual excellent job of selling her role.

McLeavy plays the local “PC Plod” who Brody’s character confesses to in the film.   Robin is completely believable as the rather serious cop who has little patience for what she sees as messing about.

Brody’s character is a psychologist who has had more than his fair share of tragedy.  His daughter is struck by a truck and killed while they are out together. Before that though, some of  his past is so awful that he has “mis-remembered” it.

A young girl shows up in his office and the mute child silently asks for his help.  This triggers events that begin to veer into the supernatural, or even paranormal, and Peter Bower (Adrien) is determined to get to the bottom of this issue.

Brody is so convincing with his subdued Aussie accent that if one had never seen him in anything else they would assume he came from the land down under.  The Oscar winning actor shows just why he won that little gold man in this film.  His suffering and fear are apparent but never over the top. The actor is just brilliantly spot on whatever the emotion.

Sam Neill plays a psychiatrist who is treating Peter and once again this Irish actor performs his magic on screen. Neill and Brody interact beautifully together and it helps to move the story on very well.

In terms of story to avoid spoilers the plot  cannot be described in too much detail. There is a daughter’s death,  a 20 year old train wreck and childhood secrets that have been forgotten over time. These secrets manifest themselves in many ways and ultimately it seems that they have been altered with time.

Director Petroni moves things along at an almost leisurely pace but never quite eases up on the tension. There are no false scares here.  Petroni wants us uneasy and slightly afraid in varying degrees.  Once the first reveal is made things pick up nicely and the horrible secret of Peter’s childhood does appear.

Once the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, one can look back on the film and with a little help from Petroni it becomes clear that all has been signposted from frame one.

Backtrack is a 5 star film.  It may be slowly paced but the scares work well and the childhood revisit is both horrifying and tragic.  Airing on Netflix at the moment, this is a great find. Check it out and see what you think.

The Loved Ones (2009): Oddness in the Outback

Every once in a great while you bump into a film that shows not only the underbelly of its protagonists but does it so well that the film becomes unforgettable. Written and directed by Sean Byrne, The Loved Ones is his first feature length film. Considering that this is his first time at bat, he has hit a home run that equals the performance of the legendary Babe Ruth.

Starring Xavier SamuelRobin McLeavy and John Brumpton the film shows three dysfunctional families and their problems. Firstly, we have Brent (Samuel) who is driving home with his dad after just getting his license. As he and his dad exchange banter, Brent takes his eyes off the road and when he looks back up he sees a bloody man standing in front of their car. Swerving he crashes into a tree.

Six months later we learn that Brent’s dad died in the crash and that Brent is planning on attending his high school prom with his long-term girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine). We also learn that Brent’s mother is still trying to cope with her husbands death. At school while Brent is getting things out of his locker a girl named Lola (Robin McLeavy) asks him to the prom. Replying that he will be going with Holly, but “thanks for asking,” he then goes out to meet with Holly in the car park.

It turns out that Brent is having a hard time dealing with his father’s death. He wears a razor blade  around his neck for self harming and he likes to feel close to death. It is while he is rock climbing that someone comes up behind him and knocks him out. The same person breaks his mobile phone and tries to kill his dog.

When Brent regains conciousness he is tied to a chair and Lola, who is now called Princess by her father, is having her own private prom at home and Brent is her unwilling date. After injecting him with bleach to freeze his vocal cords, she and her doting father begin a long night of torture.

In the meantime, Brent’s friend Jamie (Richard Wilson) is taking ‘goth chick’ Mia (Jessica McNamee) to the Prom. Mia’s dad is the local police constable and she is uncommunicative and seems to exist to only take drugs, drink alcohol, and have sex. Jamie is about as socially inept as they come and the two provide a lot of the movies lighter moments.

This film has some of the most cringe worthy moments I have ever seen in a film. It also has about the best cast possible. Princess’s father manages to repulse you and then make you feel pity for his character. Princess, aka Lola, just oozes insanity that has been brought about from her father not being able to say no to any request she makes.

Brent manages to make the damage that Bruce Campbell as Ashe goes through in the Evil Dead trilogy look like a walk in the park. The fact that he makes his suffering look all too real really helps to sell the film.

Special kudos to John Brumpton as Lola’s Daddy. This man manages to almost steal the show with his performance.

John Brumpton as Daddy.

By the end of the film Byrne manages to tie all the families together as we the audience realise that Princess’s madness has touched them all.

I rate just how good a film is by how I feel after I’ve just watched it. The Loved Ones fell into the category of ‘I need to see this one again!’ Australia has a brilliant knack of making horror films that stick with you. The cast lists are small and intimate and the characters so richly developed that you bond with them and really care about what happens to them.

I cannot wait to see what Sean Byrne has planned for us next.

Director Sean Byrne.