"has an intriguing central concept, but unfortunately doesn’t create a film to match it"
Backtrack, the latest film by Australian writer-director Michael Petroni, is a mystery thriller starring Adrien Brody. It’s a well-meaning effort that attempts to chill viewers, but suffers from a predictable plot and clichéd techniques that frequently jolt you out of any suspense.
The film focuses on psychologist Peter Bower (Adrien Brody), who has been living his life in a grief-stricken dream since the loss of his young daughter. After being referred new patients by a friend (Sam Neill), Bower notices that they’ve begun to act strangely. Soon he starts to realise that the grief of his present and the guilt of his past may soon come back to torment him in almost unimaginable ways.
Backtrack seems to have stemmed from one strong idea, of the mysterious supernatural coming back to haunt someone in the guise of a patient. With therapy, it’s expected that people will bare their soul so it’s an interesting concept for these patients to be both mysterious and open at the same time.
However, the rest of the film doesn’t know how to develop this concept. At times it’s a horror with creepy makeup and at others it’s a thriller with rapid action. Yet not once is it a mystery, as each plot twist is spelled out for you at least ten minutes before it actually takes place.
Instead of fleshing out any characters, it also resorts to the old sound trick of quiet mumbling for several minutes before a loud bang of some sort. Rather than fulfilling its intended purpose of creating suspense, it simply becomes a pain when you have to reach for the remote every time so that the neighbours don’t get irritated, before turning up the volume again to hear a single word of Brody’s (fairly presentable) Aussie accent. In a cinema it may be even more troublesome.
It’s a pity because some of the film is quite beautifully shot, and it features a great scene in which a train that passes Bower’s window suddenly screeches to a halt to face the psychologist with his own fears. Jenni Baird is affecting as his wife as well, but unfortunately barely used. There are references to her back-story which are later abandoned, leaving you to wonder if some of her scenes are still on the cutting room floor.
The film reaches its conclusion not by referring to characters we’ve met and want to know about, but by introducing us to a new character whose sudden dramatic downturn into villainy doesn’t have quite the impact intended when we know so little about them.
Backtrack has an intriguing central concept, but unfortunately doesn’t create a film to match it. Ditching a ghostly concept for human downfall in the last act, it’s not half as thrilling or scary as by rights it should be. It’s a shame too that despite some keen performances from lesser known faces, they simply don’t have a script to match their enthusiasm.