Stars: Adrien Brody, Sam Neill, Robin McLeavy, Bruce Spence, Jenni Baird, Anna Lise Phillips, Chloe Bayliss, Olga Miller, Michael Whalley, Malcolm Kennard, Matthew Sunderland, Suzie Steen | Written and Directed by Michael Petroni
Don’t look now, but a man begins to experience strange visions following the death of his child. After realising that the majority of his patients are ghosts (like a reverse Sixth Sense) psychologist Peter Bower (Adrien Brody) heads to his spooky old hometown in the hope that he can uncover the mystery behind it all.
Moody, intense Brody is the main draw for this low-key supernatural thriller, its effective Gothic vibe making it stand out from the chaff like Nicolas Cage’s Pay the Ghost (I say that with love) or the litany of 101 Films releases just like it (said with less love, but there’s still some). The level of class extends to the presence of one Sam Neill, taking a break from selling wine to appear as Bower’s mentor, who suggests that the psychotherapist’s ghost patient problems may be related to the recent tragedy in his life. No shit.
Setup out of the way, there are twists and turns aplenty for the second half of Backtrack, which sees Bower relocate to his old home with his old, drunk dad, and begin investigations in earnest. There’s the odd jump scare too, although the emphasis is more on atmosphere than Insidious level jolts, the film being as quiet and glum as its lead actor. The cast are the main draw, from Brody and Neill (the latter’s role being relatively small, but instrumental to the story). Robin McLeavy pops up too as a local cop, her presence very much welcome. She doesn’t get to cut loose as she did in the wonderful The Loved Ones, but her return to horror is to be celebrated.
In a strong few years for Australian and New Zealand horror, Backtrack is the black sheep in not being even nearly in the same league as, say, The Babadook or Deathgasm (few things are) but it does its own thing well enough. Its own thing is more J-horror than we’ve seen in a while, particularly in its mystery element and habit of throwing ghosts at poor Bower. Writer/director Michael Petroni has a keen eye for imagery, his ghosts grim and frequently reminiscent of those from Danny Pang’s The Eye. It’s well written too, although Brody does most of the heavy lifting in the character department, looking so relentlessly tortured and miserable that one can’t help but feel for the poor fellow. It’s one of the angst-iest performances ever seen in a horror film, leaving me feeling depressed just by looking at him. All that, and an accent so convincing you’ll find yourself pausing the film just to ask Google whether Adrien Brody really is Australian too.
Backtrack will never set the horror world alight and it spends far too much time raking over old ground, but this supernatural Gothic is still well worth one’s while. Adrien Brody? Sure, but it’s Adrien Brody who steals the show.
Backtrack is on limited release across the UK from January 29th.