Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Horseman (2008) Film Review
Reviewed by: James Gracey
Grieving father Christian (Peter Marshall) picks up teenage hitchhiker Alice (Caroline Marohasy) in the Australian outback. A tender-footed repertoire is soon struck up as they travel together. What Alice doesn't know, however, is that between stops along the way, mild-mannered Christian is extracting brutal and bloody revenge on those he holds responsible for his daughter’s death.
The Horseman is the latest in a line of powerful and extreme Australian genre pictures. At times it feels like the bastard offspring of Shane Meadows and Greg Mclean. Gritty and brutal, the film’s first few scenes unfold within a chronologically fractured narrative that exudes a stark realism in which a man is beaten, thrown about his house and eventually doused in gasoline and set alight. We cut to the exterior of the house as Christian emerges from the plumes of smoke – screams from inside the house barely audible beneath it.
The sad story of how Christian turned brutal vigilante is slowly pieced together and we follow him as he extracts bloody, blunt and merciless revenge. What adds to the effectiveness of events is that director Steven Kastrissios always cuts away from the moment of impact – ensuring each bloody encounter remains barbaric and intense because its culmination plays out only in our heads. When we are eventually witness to violence, it is heavy, blunt and feels very real. There are no jump cuts or flashy stylised editing here.
This approach is ditched in the final reel, however, and the film slips momentarily into familiar ‘torture porn’ territory. Things still remain taut and intense though, and even the inclusion of a typical cat and mouse chase scene doesn’t detract from the film’s breathless impact as it furiously rushes to its devastating climax.
Shots of a lone outback highway at night are deeply moody and convey a real sense of isolation and loneliness. Christian’s ‘mission’ is a solitary one and he has become trapped in a limbo of midnight motels and run-down diners, having no interaction with people – except those he unflinchingly tortures and kills - until Alice thumbs her way into his life. The relationship provides them each with the opportunity to interact with the respective figures that are absent from their lives – Christian a daughter, and Alice a father. Corniness is successfully avoided and the low-key banter between them remains tentative and unobtrusive throughout. They both keep their distance and are wary – both have been hurt badly in the past. In fact, their initial exchanges are shrouded in a suffocating tension, until flashbacks reveal the tragic fate of Christian’s daughter and we begin to understand why and what he has set out to do.
As the avenging father, Peter Marshall delivers a compelling performance. We are privy to his dark and quiet moments when he cuts himself in the shower, and watch him humbly retrieving his daughter’s ashes from his kitchen bin after a sudden angry rage when he throws them away. The flashbacks of her as little girl don’t feel intrusive as they slice through the narrative and add a much needed touch of poignancy to counter all the scenes in which Christian is shown extracting his own form of justice. A sign in the background of one of the torture scenes states ‘Skill comes from practice’ and it would seem that with each kill, Christian is becoming more and more deft in his violent means of obtaining information and drifting further and further away from the ‘everyman’ he once was.
A compelling, gripping and bleak story of a father trying to understand his daughter, preserve the integrity of her memory and redeem her broken name.Reviewed on: 25 Mar 2010