‘Nothing haunts us like the past’
Backtrack is a 2015 Australian mystery horror thriller feature film written, co-produced, and directed by actor Michael Petroni (also screenwriter of Possession ; The Rite).
Adrien Brody, Bruce Spence, Sam Neill (The Final Conflict; In The Mouth of Madness; Jurassic Park), Robin McLeavy (The Loved Ones, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), Malcolm Kennard, and Jenni Baird.
Psychologist Peter Bower’s life is thrown into turmoil when he discovers that the patients he has been seeing are ghosts. Risking his own sanity, Peter delves into his past to uncover a terrifying secret which only he can put right…
Repressed memories are a thing, apparently. Some people swear by them the way other people swear by thorough colonics. The mind’s way of cleansing itself? It sounds reasonable, if you don’t think too deeply about it. And like its ticklishly-close cousin, amnesia, it makes a convenient shibboleth for Noir-like expression, which has its own ticklishly-close cousin in horror. Or in this case, ghost stories.
Adrien Brody (he of the perpetually quizzical face) plays Peter Bower, a psychiatrist with issues of his own; putting a slight twist into the premise of Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense (1999), Bower has lost his child due to an automobile accident which may have been preventable if Bower hadn’t become distracted by a toy train display in a shop window. The loss leads to the requisite long faces and crumbling marriage, also reminiscent of Shyamalan’s masterpiece and all too prevalent in many ghost stories since. The film hops onto the slightly off-kilter bandwagon as Bower has sessions with patients who seem just enough out of place to be a tad creepy or simply a little delusional, which nicely sets up the is-it-all-in-his-head or is-he-being-haunted conundrum that runs through the rest of the movie.
All of this oddness eventually sends him back to his old school and discussions with his previous mentor, Duncan Stewart (Sam Neill), over concerns about the guilt — and the possible mental distortions arising from that guilt — he still experiences over his daughter’s death. Stewart’s main purpose in these scenes is to play the excavator.
He asks Bower what distracted him at that shop window, what memory was the distraction bringing to the surface; in one scene, they examine a Pieter Bruegel painting which Bower has been dreaming about, Winter Landscape with Skaters and Bird Trap (the same painting eerily tracked through in the opening credits); Stewart says there’s always something just below the surface of Bruegel’s paintings which leads Bower to say the painting has always bothered him because he can’t see the trapper in the window, he can’t see his face.
Realising he needs to find answers, Bower heads back to his hometown of False Creek, hoping it will dredge up those repressed memories and clear his conscience. Old acquaintances are revived, questions are asked, and investigations into the past are made, leading to a satisfactory, though not unexpected, conclusion.
Although this is Michael Petroni’s first shot at directing horror, he shows a sophisticated affinity for the genre; his movie-making skills are supple, producing a controlled, attenuated spookiness. The entire cast performs beautifully, especially Adrien Brody, who wonderfully plumbs the emotional depths required to make the film believable. The deep colours and lush cinematography of Stefan Duscio add the appropriate subtle dread to virtually every scene, creating a sustained unease throughout the length of the film. And the score, by Dale Cornelius, keeps the tone richly melancholic and moody.
Overall, Backtrack is high on well-executed chills, steady unrest, and intelligent story, while being low on adrenaline, cheap scares, and boorish antics. Though it lacks originality in minor ways, which includes an easily-anticipated denouement, it successfully makes up for these things with high-level craftsmanship, finesse, and an impish desire to unsettle.
Ben Spurling, MOVIES and MANIA
” …effectively creates a sustained atmosphere of ominous tension throughout, with the exception of a few cheap jump scares that devolve the proceedings into familiar horror movie territory. But the real problem with the film is its overly complicated and contrived screenplay that essentially transforms the spooky proceedings into a wan murder mystery.” The Hollywood Reporter
“Much like Paranormal Activity, cues are utilized to heighten our unease and expect incoming creeps. Surprisingly, this is not the only trickBacktrack has in its arsenal. Multiple layers of story are revealed as the drama plays out, all with moments of genuine horror that will shoot a chill up your spine.” Dread Central
“Backtrack is the cinematic equivalent of watching a Rubik’s Cube noisily solve itself for 90 minutes, eventually and cloying resolving its main character’s agony with a stock wave of the hand. Sadly, audiences aren’t so kindly treated, as we’re ushered out the door with one last bout of gratuitous screaming. Because ghosts suck.” Slant
” … evokes an accomplished eerie mood that, for the most part, doesn’t strain for effect. There are the expected jump-scares—a couple of which do pack the intended jolts—which serve as punctuation in a story more concerned with building a steady tension that grabs you and holds you for the entirety of its running time.” Fangoria
“Although Petroni wrote and directed the film, it’s quite apparent that he’s much better with the former than with the latter. Since this is only the second feature that he’s directed, it’s easy to forgive most of the technical flaws, but the predictable narrative is inexcusable for someone with this much experience in scriptwriting.” Bloody Disgusting
Cast and characters:
- Adrien Brody … Peter Bower
- Bruce Spence … Felix
- Sam Neill … Duncan Stewart
- Robin McLeavy … Barbara Henning
- Malcolm Kennard … Barry
- Jenni Baird … Carol Bower
- Anna Lise Phillips … Erica George
Backtrack had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 18, 2015. It was then released exclusively by Saban Films on DirecTV January 28, 2016, and theatrically and on Demand on February 26, 2016.