BACKTRACK. Starring: Adrien Brody, Sam Neill, Jenni Baird, George Shevtsov, and Robin McLeavy. Directed by Michael Petroni. Rated M (Supernatural themes and coarse language). 86 min.
This supernatural mystery thriller, set in Australia, is about a therapist, who blames himself for a tragic accident involving his daughter a year previously. Suddenly, he begins to receive odd people as clients, who walk through his door after his daughter's death.
Peter Bower (Adrien Brody) is the psychologist who has lost his daughter, Evie, in the accident, and he blames himself for his inattention at a critical, fatal moment. His wife Carol (Jenni Baird) is distraught at the loss of their only child. Peter suffers from incessant anxiety nightmares about what has happened, and he is deeply depressed.
Shortly after the accident, Peter is visited by people, who may or may not have been sent by his mentor, psychiatrist figure, Duncan Stewart (Sam Neill). One such person is a musician who says he plays in a club that Peter knows has closed down. The musician says also that he is living in 1987 which happens to be the year when a horrific train crash killed 47 people outside his home-town. Another patient presents with the same initials as his dead daughter, and she constantly, hauntingly reappears.
Peter realises that his patients are ghosts leading him back into his past, and he decides to revisit the past in an attempt to clarify his recollections about what happened. His memories start to reveal details about things he has never been able to face, or has repressed for very good reason.
This is a ghost story that has solid impact. When the realisation is made that Peter's clients are all (but one of them) victims of the train crash, the horror escalates. The film's photography is shadowy, providing clues to what is unfolding, and the musical score is atmospheric. The film builds up tension to reveal what has to be put right, and there are emotional links between the accident that killed his daughter and the train crash that caused so many people to die, years before. To unravel the mystery, Peter returns to his home-town, (named a little obviously "False Creek"), to unravel what really happened, and while delving into the past he uncovers sinister events involving his father (George Shevtsov) that he has never admitted.
The movie is part-thriller, part-horror film, and also a clinical case study of mental disturbance. It reminds one of "The Sixth Sense" (1999), which also features the appearance of the dead. The film is partly derivative of other films also, such as Nicholas Roeg's "Don't Look now" (1973) which is about a beloved young daughter, tragically lost. While not nearly as good as the best of them (two are mentioned), and while working up its tone of mystery a little obviously, it nevertheless delivers a sizeable set of nasty events that holds attention, and keeps the viewer very involved.
Rather than building up dread and foreboding slowly, the film opts for a series of "moments" that arouse fear. The narrative is accompanied by the shocks, rather than the shocks defining an unfolding plot. The apparitions Peter has to contend with almost intrude into the story-line, but they exist to ultimately guide his recollections. Most of Peter's patients know that they are dead, but Peter can't prove their existence, to himself, to Duncan Stewart, or to a sympathetic policewoman (Robin McLeavy). He processes them, and everything else, painfully through gradual awareness of what he thinks happened.
The acting in the movie is uniformly good, and the film is a home-grown, entertaining thriller that holds its creepy scare. Like many supernatural thrillers, it builds up its tension for a surprise "hit" at the end, that few are likely to see coming.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released June 16, 2016