Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Michael Petroni
Stars: Adrien Brody, Sam Neill, Robin McLeavy, George Shevtsov, Malcolm Kennard, Bruce Spence, Jennia Baird, Chloe Bayliss.
Backtrack is an atmospheric Aussie psychological thriller with supernatural undertones that borrows elements from the superior The Sixth Sense and Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, amongst others. The film explores themes of grief, redemption, loss, forgiveness, and confronting the ghosts of the past.
Troubled psychologist Peter Bower (played by Oscar winner Adrien Brody, from The Pianist, etc) is still grieving the tragic loss of his daughter in a road accident when he starts to realise that many of his patients are acting strangely. Like Felix (veteran Bruce Spence), a jazz musician who claims to be playing in a club that closed down years ago. And he believes that it is 1987 and Ronald Reagan is still US President. He also receives spooky and unsettling visits from a silent young girl named Elizabeth Valentine, who mysteriously appears and disappears. Bower soon realises that he is seeing dead people, and begins to question his own sanity. But before you can say The Sixth Sense, writer/director Michael Petroni takes the material in a slightly different direction.
Bower begins to investigate and discovers that all of his freaky patients are actually dead people who are trying to tell him something. He learns that they all died on the same date way back in 1987. This revelation sends Bower on a journey back to his small rural home town of False Creek, where he begins to probe the past and resolve his troubling visions. He also meets up with his estranged father (George Shevtsov), an alcoholic retired cop, and former childhood friend Barry (Malcolm Kennard, from the recent Pawno, etc), who is also deeply troubled and whose life has fallen apart. Bower uncovers the truth about a traumatic incident that he has blocked from his memory.
Backtrack starts off fairly awkwardly and slowly but it picks up the pace and the tension as Bower returns to his home town and begins peeling away at the truth of what happened twenty years earlier. He falls into a rabbit hole of unwelcome revelations. There are some well placed shocks and jolts, but it all seems a little derivative as Petroni reworks many of the tropes of the horror genre.
The film was shot in the town of Carcourt, in New South Wales, and the small town setting lends authenticity to the material. Much of the action takes place in the pouring rain or at night, and the moody and atmospheric cinematography from Stefan Duscio (The Turning, Canopy, etc) adds to the impending sense of dread and uneasiness. Dale Cornelius’ score is also quite evocative and moody. But some of the CGI special effects look a little unconvincing, especially the climactic train crash that is at the heart of the drama.
Petroni began his career in the 90s as a comedy writer, but he is better known as the writer of horror films like Queen Of The Damned, The Rite and the more literary The Book Thief. Backtrack is his first feature film as a director since Till Human Voices Wake Us over a decade ago.
There is a fine, intense and committed performance from Brody, whose haunted looking visage and solid work justifies his casting. He captures Bower’s angst ridden, mental confusion quite well. He also manages to pull off a fairly convincing Australian accent for most of the film. Robin McLeavy (from horror film The Loved Ones, etc) is also quite good as Barbara Henning, the local constable. And Sam Neill is given little to do in a small role as Bower’s mentor but his presence lends gravitas to the material.