are two things that always worked in Hitchcock movies: trains and psychiatrists.
It is therefore a rather shrewd strategy for screenwriter Michael Petroni to
combine them in his feature directorial debut. Sometimes it makes sense, sometimes
it doesn’t, but it is always stylish when head-shrinker Peter Bower tries to
get his head around his traumatic past in Petroni’s Backtrack, which was
recently acquired by Saban Films after successfully screening at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival.
devastated by the accidental death of their pre-teen daughter, Bower and his
wife Carol have moved back to Melbourne, hoping the change of scenery will do
them good. For the time being, Bower’s practice consists of evaluation-cases referred
by his former teacher, Dr. Duncan Steward. These patients seem to have a lot of
issues, but they can hardly compare to the visibly disturbed teenager Elizabeth
Valentine. She has all kinds of problems, starting with the fact her records
say she died in 1987.
one Elizabeth Valentine was a victim of a tragic train derailment accident that
devastated Bowers’ provincial hometown of False Creek years ago. While Bowers
investigates the circumstances surrounding the catastrophe, he starts to
remember his own unfortunate involvement. As he stirs up a hornet’s nest of
local resentment, the pushback of the living and the torments of the ghosts
start to jog Bowers’ long suppressed memories.
there are a lot of logical holes in Backtrack,
but they are mostly concentrated in the first half hour. If you are willing
to gloss over them, the film picks up considerable steam in the second and
third acts. Throughout it all, Petroni demonstrates a mastery of atmosphere,
building suspense through creepy ambiance and the restrained use of Grudge-like supernatural effects.
is hard to imagine Adrien Brody saying “put another shrimp on the Barbie,” but
his sad-eyed, hang-dog screen persona works quite well for Bowers. As usual, Sam
Neill’s forceful bearing classes up the joint, even if his character, Dr.
Steward, really doesn’t make a lot of sense. George Shevtsov also adds some
grizzled seasoning as Bowers’ old man. However, Bruce Spence (whose mind-blowing
credits include the Mad Max, Star Wars,
Matrix, and Narnia franchises)
arguably lands the best scene as Bowers’ jazz musician patient.
Part of the fun of Backtrack is identifying where the pieces fit seamlessly into each
other and where they are just sort of jammed together. Cinematographer Stefan
Duscio (who lensed the breathtaking Canopy)
gives it all the perfect look of noir foreboding. Petroni rewards viewers who
can overlook the narrative’s early ragged edges with a lot of clever bits down
the stretch. Recommended for psychological thriller fans not inclined towards
pedantry, Backtrack will eventually hit
theaters following its successful world premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film
Labels: Adrien Brody, Australian cinema, Ghost movies, Psychological Thrillers, Sam Neill, Tribeca '15