“A worthy addition to the increasingly long list of good Australian supernatural movies.”
Backtrack is an Australian film from the screenwriter and director Michael Petroni, who created (amongst other things) the short-lived and underrated US TV series Miracles. The film stars former antichrist Sam Neill as the mentor to Oscar-winning piano player and giant ape combatant Adrien Brody’s psychiatrist who’s recently experienced a tragedy and who starts to believe he is seeing ghosts, some of whom seem desperate to tell him something…. Following their pointing ghostly fingers forces Brody to examine his immediate and longer-term past, and to uncover and face up to secrets that some people would rather have left buried before he can come to a accommodation with the spirits that haunt him. It’s a pity that any basic description of Backtrack’s plot reads like a tired mash-up of many previous ghost movies, because while it’s clear that the film does have antecedents (with movies like The Woman in White and The Sixth Sense being obvious reference points), to dismiss it would be to miss something rather fun and interesting.
One of the main things that Backtrack has going for it is Brody, who’s excellent and whose eyebrows alone are capable of expressing unhappiness and confusion quite wonderfully. He’s the film’s central pillar, around which everything else hangs and it’s probably true to say that in a lesser actor’s hands Backtrack would struggle to rise above the weight of the basic plot. Brody, however, brings a lightness to what could have been a dreary, difficult role, and the film is all the better for it. Another key strength is the always-excellent Neill, here playing as urbanity personified, and while underused, he brings a nice twinkle-eyed gravitas to his role that lifts his scenes and makes you wish he’d been in it for longer. The rest of the cast, although not given much screen time or any particular depth of characterisation to use, handle themselves well and are more than capable of keeping up with Brody and Neill, with the performances being natural and realistic.
The ghostly apparitions seen here appear natural too, helped by CGI work that is never overplayed, but used to compliment the actors and scenes rather than submerge them, and for the most part they are both subtle and creepy, with one scene on a train station platform in particular causing genuine shivers. If there is an unfortunate slight over-reliance on jump-scares, it is kept mostly in check and the atmosphere of mounting dread and mystery that Petroni is clearly striving for survives and eventually comes through mostly unscathed, and sports one or two moments of real emotional power and punch. Backtrack also does a good job of tying most of its various plot points together so that its internal logic that pretty much holds, and it’s clear that some thought and care has gone into achieving this.
Ultimately, Backtrack may not be the most original film you’ll ever see but, terrible title that belongs to another film notwithstanding, it’s a worthy addition to the increasingly long list of good Australian supernatural movies, and as such it’s well worth your time.
SIMON KURT UNSWORTH
Director: Michael Petroni
Starring: Adrien Brody, Sam Neill
Release date: 2015.
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