Ginger Nuts of Horror
Dir. Michael Petroni, Australia, 90 mins
Starring Adrien Brody, Robin McLeavy, Sam Neill and George Shevtsov
Out in UK Cinemas 29th January
Every now and then one of those offers comes along you don't like to say no to. And 'do you fancy reviewing Adrien Brody's new movie' is definitely one of those scenarios. A firm favourite for me as an actor, and when I found out this one also had the wonderful Sam Neill in it I was all over it like a rash. So, what's it all about then?
Backtrack follows the story of Peter, a psychotherapist who recently lost his daughter in a car accident. Of course their marriage is in a difficult spot, and Peter is struggling to keep up with the needs of his patients and the strain the tragedy has taken on his mental state. It's at this stage that the very mysterious Elizabeth Valentine appears in his office – an unspeaking girl of about 14 who offers no clue as to how and why she got there. And it turns out there's a supernatural element to her presence there – and to all of his patients...
It's not really a spoiler to say that, because all of that is revealed within the first half an hour and it's after that the main thrust of the story starts – it gradually becomes clear all of his patients died on the same day, as revealed by the enigmatic Elizabeth Valentine. And it's a date he's all too familiar with – the date of a huge train crash in his home town.
So, the remaining hour of the movie follows Peter on his journey back home as he tries to unravel the truth of the event behind that tragic accident. It's one that he was involved in, but the true intricacies of how it came to be are rather more complicated that at first sight. Difficult conversations and dark memories long buried begin to make their way to the surface, and the truth of that awful night will hit closer to home than the haunted Peter could possibly imagine.
Part ghost story, part psychological thriller, I can't help but think there could have been a brilliant movie here. There's certainly the raw materials in terms of acting talent, some interesting ideas, some great shots and moments (I loved the scene when Peter sees his younger self cycle past as a start to a flashback). But there's a definite sense that perhaps deciding to be in one camp or the other would have helped. There's a definite tension that develops naturally throughout the story, which is unfortunately all too often drowned out by the Hollywood habit of throwing in cheap jumpscares that don't really serve any purpose or add anything to the story. If you're going to do a proper ghost story, let it be subtle. If you're doing psychological thriller, focus on the psychology. If you want to make commercial horror, then do that rather than foisting facets of that in – the elements don't quite gel for me, and the pacing is a bit off in places.
With all that said, despite some of those faults, Backtrack remains a perfectly watchable and interesting movie. The performances go some way to make up for some of the story issues as mentioned above, and there are some scenes and moments that will certainly stay with you. It's simply too indecisive to really scale the heights that it could have – it's worth a look for the serious horror fan, but perhaps not so much one for the casual viewer.
RATING: 6.5/10. Backtrack is good, above average for sure, but there remains a sense that perhaps this could have been great, and as a horror reviewer those can be the movies that leave you most frustrated. I'd say Petroni remains a director to look out for in the future, as there's plenty of promise and good ideas here. Brody and Neill, as is practically always the case, deliver strong performances and that does help to lift this one a bit above the standard Hollywood horror fare of Insidious, Sinister and such forth. This one will hold your attention throughout, but perhaps not live long in the memory, so it's 6.5/10 from me.