A loving father going about his pleasant albeit uneventful life has his world shattered when out of the blue, news of his daughter’s death drives a spike through his once peaceful existence. The toxicology reports from the police state it was an overdose, but he’s not buying into that. And to top it off, a pornographic video containing the final doped out moments of his daughter’s life caught on tape is mysteriously mailed to him. What is a father to do?
He grabs his bike pump, some fishing hooks and his favourite switchblade, and head out on a merciless rampage of bloody revenge to make sure everyone involved in the said production regrets the day they were ever born.
Well, at least that’s the basic set up of first time writer/director’s Steven Kastrissios’ low budget and bloody revenge flick, The Horseman anyway. A mean slice of Ozploitation cinema that reveals just how far one loving father is willing to go for his daughter.
The Horseman had been at the head of my to see list for a long while before I finally managed to get my greasy mitts on a copy of it. There was some pretty positive buzz coming out about it plus the nasty subject manner sounded right up my alley (I’m a sucker for revenge movies). Unfortunately the short and very limited release at cinemas would mean an extended wait was on my hands before I could finally check this mean sucker out. This extra waiting period only increased my already high expectations I had for it going in, but as always is the problem with high expectations; it’s easy to find yourself disappointed in the long run. Now I wouldn’t exactly say I was completely let down by The Horseman, but I guess thanks to the curse of high expectations plaguing my mind in advance, ultimately I was expecting a little more from it.
Right from the opening moments you’ll be struck by the sheer viscousness The Horseman has in store. This isn’t a movie that messes around. Within the first few minutes of its running time, we lay witness to the tormented character of Christian dishing out some serious pain by means of a crowbar on his unarmed victim. This unrestrained attack is so brutal that I wouldn’t be surprised if some first time viewers were convinced they were watching the villain of the piece in action, rather than the hero. These attacks only increase in their savageness as the film progresses with increasingly inventive and cruel instruments of torture being put to good use on some folks who truly deserve it. And although the film is frequently exceptionally violent, it’s never overly graphic or gratuitous, leaving just enough unpleasantness for your imagination to digest. This less is more approach is somewhat refreshing compared to most modern horror flicks that would prefer to cram as much graphic gore down your throat as they can.
There’s no hiding the fact that The Horseman is a very low budget film, and it doesn’t take long before the cracks in its budget start becoming apparent. But don’t let that turn you off. Yes, it was shot on what looks like a shoestring budget, but the filmmakers have managed to push this small budget to its limit. Visually, it still has that very distinct shot on video look about it, but in a weird way it suits the film. It almost gives the proceedings a quasi-documentary feel to it, which only accentuates the unsettling nature of the events unfolding.
These budgetary constraints don’t seem to have diminished the overall brutal punch that the numerous fight scenes pack either. Although these bouts of fisticuffs often featuring multiple assailants at once will require you to suspend you disbelief temporarily as Christian dismantles guys half his age and twice his size with ease. Some of these earlier showdowns are executed with slightly lacklustre enthusiasm and as a result, come off looking very clunky and sloppy to begin with. But each progressive slugfest become increasingly efficient and more tightly choreographed, that in turn will leave you flinching as each brutal blow connects.
The Horseman is more or less a one-man show, so the pressure was on Peter Marshall’s portrayal of the revenge driven Christian to bring the goods. So while he does appear a little stiff and rust early on, with the progression of the film his character slowly opened up to reveal an intense yet sympathetic broken human being with nothing to loose. He manages to realistically convey his uncontrollable anger in a horrifying fashion, while simultaneously serving up some genuinely touching moments. His confused sense of anguish is summed up perfectly in an early sequence that shows Christian disposing of his daughter’s ashes in the trash with a sense of disgust, only to immediately regret it. No words or music are required to wring out emotion here, the image of Christian slowly and methodically scooping up handfuls of what’s left of his daughter is enough to produce a genuinely moving result, and that’s coming from a guy who is usually impervious to any sort of human emotion, I’m just saying.
So while The Horseman dishes up a healthy dose of hardcore violence, it also harbours a surprisingly tender side to it too, as demonstrated with the character of Christian striking up a friendship with Alice (Caroline Marohasy), a young teenage runaway. Between bursts of horrifying violence, Christian becomes somewhat of a father figure to this troubled girl, which would have been nice and all if these sequences didn’t bring the film to a complete standstill. Sure, this adds a sweet side to the film, but in the end they ultimately feel a little stale and uninteresting in comparison to the more action-orientated segments. This is especially apparent as we head down the final stretch of the film; we’re forced to endure an overload of corny melodrama that wasn’t particularly engaging. Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the attempt to inject an extra dose of character development into the proceedings, but when I find my mind starting to wonder elsewhere during these sequences, well, that isn’t a good sign.
And although I may have been all about the more action orientated portion of the film, there’s no denying that the repetitive nature of Christian’s attacks start to become gruelling to sit through. Like clockwork, Christian ties down his victim, tortures them in a horrible fashion, they talk, and he finishes them off. Now repeat this half a dozen times and see how quickly you grow tired of this endless cycle.
Ultimately, I did enjoy The Horseman. It’s a gritty revenge flick that achieves more with its limited budget than many of its big budget siblings could ever achieve. The combined powers of Peter Marshall’s intense performance and the solid direction skills of Steven Kastrissios left me with the impression that if they had been given a more substantial budget to work with, we just might have had a true Australian genre classic on our hands. It may have missed this mark this time, but these two are definite future talents to keep an eye out for.
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