"Sands is at his best when allowing himself more license and not trying to replicate a horror formula."

Have you ever wondered how, with seven billion people in the world, everybody seems to be the reincarnation of Cleopatra or Napoleon? For Ralph (Mark Drake) dreams of a possible past life are a little more uncomfortable. When he goes to sleep - and sometimes when he's awake - he's troubled by images of himself as a Nazi soldier persecuting the inhabitants of a small village in the South Downs. Fortunately he has a sympathetic friend in the form of hippie chick Claudia (newcomer Rosie Akerman). Less fortunately, she thinks it will be a good idea for them to investigate the village in question, where their reception turns out to be less than friendly.

Intercutting scenes of the two young people and their other halves (who are more interested in their own clandestine affair than in uncovering the secrets of the deep past) with scenes from Ralph's dreams, the film teases with past tense horror whilst isolating its protagonists in the present. Jon Bartlett hams it up as a Hammer Horror style lecherous barman and there are a lot of very pretty shots of the Downs before the bad guy appears out of nowhere and things start to go wrong. There's real potential here in the natural vulnerability of people camping in remote places, though it's slightly less impactful if you know your geography and realise it would be hard to walk through the area for more than a couple of hours without finding civilisation. Though hampered by a limited budget, director Tom Sands does what he can to generate tension in these scenes before moving on to the meat of the horror.

Copy picture

Sands has admitted that he's not very familiar with the horror genre, and that seems to be at the root of a number of the film's problems. It's pitched as an intelligent contribution to the genre but is mostly quite routine stuff. Julian Glover has fun as the villain (an awkward attempt to present him as some kind of sympathetic avenger doesn't quite come off) and Drake and Akerman acquit themselves well but the film's other female lead is about as convincing as a torture victim as she is as a blonde. The torture scenes rely too heavily on close-up special effects - this is one of those occasions when they would probably look more realistic to a film audience if they were less realistic - and don't succeed in drawing us in emotionally.

Of the four protagonists, the most interesting is Claudia, in large part because audiences are likely to respond to her beliefs dismissively, providing a challenge to overcome. It's a shame that this isn't developed as much as it could be, whilst the idea of guilt carried over from past lives is never adequately substantiated, depriving later scenes of moral weight. There's some interesting work in the flashback scenes, where Sands uses blurring to suggest the uncertainty of memory and draw in viewer attention. He is at his best when allowing himself more license and not trying to replicate a horror formula.

Backtrack (also known as Nazi Vengeance) has the flaws one expects in a first feature film but Sands' background in documentaries and Haydn West's ambitious cinematography give it a polish that promises better things. It stands up adequately among the bulk of horror DVD releases and will have particular appeal to people living in the local area who want to see the Downs in a different light.

Reviewed on: 24 Mar 2015
Share this with others on...
Four young people seek traces of their past lives in the South Downs - and find trouble.

Director: Tom Sands

Writer: Mick Sands

Starring: Mark Drake, Sophie Barker, Julian Glover, Rosie Akerman, Miles Jovian, Callie Moore

Year: 2014

Runtime: 96 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK, Ireland


Search database: