THE HORSEMAN (2009)
D. STEVEN KASTRISSIOS
Incredible debut feature film from Australia has a few bits of implausibility, but more than makes up for any tiny shortcomings with strong performances, taut direction, and pounding tension. Idiot viewers are going to pounce on this and call it torture porn because their cinematic vocabulary doesn't extend beyond whatever catch phrase they have read on the latest gossip website. But what we really have here, is a solid, old-fashioned revenge thriller. The kind of film the British excelled at making in the 70's often with actors like Michael Caine or even here in the states with our homeboy Charles Bronson as he got a bit older. This is lean, mean, violent as all hell, and one of the most impressive indie films to roll out in many a moon.
Peter Marshall plays Christian, a middle aged man that in the first scene we meet him, is beating the living shit out of another man with a crowbar in some out of the way flat. It seems he is a termite exterminator, or at least used that ruse to get into this place to get this guy alone. He gets some minor information out of the guy: That he has several video tapes that Christian wants, and that he knows several other guys fucked his daughter. Apparently this is on those tapes. From the stacks of other tapes all over the joint it is clear he is some sort of pornographer. After breaking the man's legs Christian sprays him, and the whole place, down with gasoline and sets it ablaze with the guy still alive inside. He goes outside, strips down, cleans up and drives off as it burns.
It seems that Christian's daughter was found dead by the side of the road from a Heroin overdose. Her body showed a load of other drugs in her, as well as semen showing she had sex right before death. Someone called in her location, so someone was with her and dumped her off to die. That same week he receives an anonymous videotape of her doing a gangbang porn movie where she is clearly stoned out of her mind during the whole thing. Christian sets out to find those involved and try to put his daughter's memory to rest.
On the face it is a simple set up, but it has a lot of subtleties that make it more complex. Christian takes to cutting himself the minute he watches the tape. At first not even understanding why he does it. Each time he finally gets to one of the people involved and has them at his mercy, often torturing them screaming for them to tell him more information, they all tell him the same thing; That she was there of her own free will. That no one made her shoot the movie, that no one forced her and that she was getting paid. He can never accept it of course and it goes from bad to worse every time. Naturally it was not as easy as that, but there is that fundamental truth that she was making the porn film of her own free will.
On the surface the movie is unfortunately more than a little anti-pornography, if you want to read it that way. But it seems to me that it is just a device to propel the story, more than a commentary on the industry itself. The characters are not exactly industry insiders, but a bunch of nasty criminal wanabees, and they could just as easily have been drug dealers, gamblers, dog fighters, or any other nefarious underground industry. As the film progresses any sort of commentary it might be making is left behind as the thriller aspects move to the forefront with more vigorous violence, beatings, murders and vengeance being the order of the day.
In fact as the film moves into the third act, it becomes much more of an aggressive exploitation revenge thriller, where as the first two thirds were a bit more of a cerebral, though no less violent, film. The last third moves the film to an isolated location with the REALLY bad guys, and lets loose with the extreme violence the movie had been keeping in its hip pocket up until then. Some audiences will probably tune out at this point as it gets pretty grim and unbearably violent. It also goes a bit too far over the top with Christian changing from an everyman type victim/hero to an unstoppable killing machine who is able to fight off a room full of guys with his bare hands. A few too many times credibility gets stretched just to keep it moving along. Never broken, but stretched.
But thankfully the velocity of the thing is so ferocious that these kinds of things are not there long enough to be focused on. I actually saw a commentary on IMDB where someone said the movie was too slow... I can't get my head around what they would consider a fast moving movie then as this thing moves along at a breakneck pace, never really letting you catch your breath. Maybe they were commenting on the small character moments, the very things that make the movie so powerful, such as a small subplot where Christian picks up a runaway hitchhiker who in some ways replaces his daughter on his journey. They have some heartfelt conversations along they way, that make what he is doing feel all the more bloodthirsty. Or maybe the moment when he finally brings himself to dump his daughter's ashes into a river, thus letting her memory go? Or maybe a tiny little moment like right before he snaps for the first time and he is talking to the distributor of the porn film, whom he has discovered was there during the shooting and he quietly asks him "did she smell good?" It is these small, quiet moments, which are actually pretty few, that make the rest of the movie "hurt" so much.
Far from perfect, but still really solid and impressive and well worth seeing. Recommended!
Review © Andy Copp