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Christopher Webster [Celluloid 03.20.09] movie review thriller

Year: 2009
Release date: Unknown
Directors: Steven Kastrissios
Writers: Steven Kastrissios
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: agentorange
Rating: 8 out of 10

[Editor's Note: The Horseman just had it's North American premiere at SXSW]

Not to be confused with Jonas Ã…kerlundshades' film of a similar title, The Horseman is a new Australian revenge flick that's about to start getting A LOT of worldwide attention. How do I know this when the film has yet to have any commercial screenings and is only now starting to make it's presence known in the Europrean Film Market? Because we've actually had a copy floating around the QE headquarters for a while just waiting for a screening. Considering how much I'm a sucker for the inherent drama of a good revenge film I'm surprised it's taken me this long to give The Horseman a spin, but man am I glad I finally did because Steven Kastrissios might just be the first director in a long time that truly gets the revenge genre.

In fact, lets just take a second to consider the genre in a little more detail. I imagine the first film that pops into most heads when revenge movies are brought up is Death Wish. Actually these days Kill Bill probably trumps the classic Charles Bronson series in the collective conscience but they'll actually both work to help my point here so feel free to think of either one. Thing is that, somewhere along the way, revenge movies became something of a fascist spectacle. A little far fetched you say? In all fairness I'll give the first Death Wish a fair shake as being a pretty lean and mean drama about a grieving man desperate to find closure when his family is brutally murdered but, by the second gruesome film, it's pretty clear that the series was quick to start preying on America's rising fear of the lower class by shocking audiences with brutal images of rape and beatings and then letting them revel in watching thugs get picked off one by one for about an hour. This notion of "cleaning up street scum" usurped the epic storytelling and heartbreaking character drama that Western directors like Anthony Mann (Bend of the River), or Sam Peckinpah (Straw Dogs, Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia) had tailored to perfection.

This trend continued well into the 80s. Even films that wore their left wing, anti-Reganomics desires on their sleeves, like the scathingly satirical (and admittedly brilliant) Robocop - whose titular hero spend the last half of the film killing pretty crooks - couldn't help but fall into this contradictory trap.

If this all sounds a little preachy, it's not meant to. I've seen it all people and I don't want to spoil the fun. I totally dig the exploitive energy of I Spit on Your Grave or Fight for Your Life as much as the next cult junkie, I just want to make it very clear what The Horseman isn't before I discuss what it is. And what it's not is a film that exploits murder and revenge for thrills. The Horseman is powerful and emotionally potent. In short, it ain't "fun."

Here's what IMDB lists as the film's storyline: "A tender drama unfolds between a grieving father and a troubled teenage girl as they drive northbound along the quiet outback roads of Australia"... Yeah no... the words "tender" and "quiet" do not apply to this film as much as whoever wrote that would like you to believe. While it's true that a grieving father meets a teenage girl on the back roads of Australia, the "tender drama" tends to be cut short by moments of extreme and very unquiet violence. I'll seriously never look at a bicycle pump the same way again.

Because the film's backstory deals with a troubled girl who goes missing and gets caught up in the sex trade only to end up drugged and murdered, I want to compare it to Get Carter but even Mike Hodges' streetwise and downbeat revenge/gangster film from '71 seems jaunty in comparison to what Kastrissios presents us with here. This is a film where a grieving father is ripped further and further away from any hope of being able to let go and move on with every payback - every crowbar infliction. And this brings me back to my first point of how Kastrissios gets the genre.

See, violence begets violence so there can be no catharsis in the act itself. When Christian kills the men who killed his daughter he's actually re-living the experience, not moving away from it. That's why the character of Alice (played by Caroline Marohasy) is so important to the story. Sort of a surrogate for his lost daughter, sort of another lost soul, she actually helps Christian more than his violent actions. In fact, to further prove the futility of it all, and how Christian's actions are nothing more than a downward spiral, Kastrissios takes the tale to a very dark and tragic place.

A lot of the time it feels like Kastrissios gives the film completely over to lead actor Peter Marshall, who's performance carries so much power and momentum that he seems to constantly pull the camera away from any classical mise-en-scene. Because of this, the style of the film comes across as very direct, almost guerrilla. Nothing is stylized or prettified to somehow suggest any of this is "beautiful" or that there's art to the violence. There are certainly gorier films out there but very few that feel quite as real.

I'm glad to say that The Horseman is another in a long line of powerful new Australian genre pictures that's very much worth keeping an eye on. It's as emotionally authentic as it is realistically lensed. Considering all the major players are virtual unknowns, the acting and directing is superb. Highly recommended.

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MrJagil (12 years ago) Reply

You guys have a headquater?


agentorange (12 years ago) Reply

Yeah it's a secret bunker hidden somewhere under the Siberian permafrost. It's pretty sweet cause if there is a nuclear apocalypse we can still beam out movie reviews to the world;)


mark (12 years ago) Reply

This film is crap.


Mark Vanselow (12 years ago) Reply

This film is CRAP indeed! I wholeheartedly second the above comment about this film, coincidentally posted by someone with the same name as I.

Why is this DUD receiving so many positive reviews online?

Unfortunately, I was subjected to this pathetic waste of time at the Melbourne International Film Festival 2008.

Despite what the ludicrously favourable review posted for "The Horseman" states, Steve Kastrissios does not "get" the revenge genre at all. "Death Wish" works for multiple reasons. For starters, the family of Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) really is innocent. On the other hand, the ill-fated daughter in "The Horseman" is essentially a victim of her own stupidity. Jeff Golblum and friends didn't break into her apartment and violate her. Nobody forced her to become involved in pornographic movies and dabble in hardcore narcotics. That isn't to say anyone deserves such an awful overdose-induced demise, but the dynamics are totally different from being an innocent clean-living victim, which brings us to the father's reaction...

Not for a moment does the father contemplate that his daughter might have made her own choices and decided quite wilfully to run with the "wrong crowd." Oh no, just find those responsible for distributing the blue movie and make them pay. "Death Wish 2" a fascist film, you say? Then what the hell does that make "The Horsemen"?

Christian goes from average Joe to a walking Jack Kervorkian in minutes. One of the best scenes in "Death Wish" is when Paul's reaction after making his first kill. Those who have seen the movie will probably know exactly what I am talking about. It's a brilliant scene and Paul Kersey's transformation from mild-mannered white collar worker to cold-blooded killing machine is handled with a slow and steady build that is both realistic and mesmerising.
That brings me to my next point...

The writer-director of "The Horsemen" throws so much gruesome crap at the viewer so quickly, nothing ever has a chance to sit and simmer, so nothing registers with the audience. There is no "slow and steady build," no character development. I will be totally honest: I'd completely forgotten about the "bicycle pump" scene until recently, and even now, you know what? I don't really remember it frame by frame at all. What does it say about the director's overwhelming lack of talent when he can film a scene with a bicycle pump used in THAT manner and have it so quickly forgotten by the audience. Again, it's the whole "throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks" mentality that never gives an audience the chance to truly retain anything of note from the movie.

"The Horsemen," despite what the above review says, clearly enjoys showing gratuitous violence in the most fetishised manner possible. Now if Christian were really homicidally furious, he wouldn't design such elaborate ways of offing his targets, it'd be boom-boom and that's it. Evidently, Christian cares less about his daughter's death and more about being Jack The Ripper by way of Rube Goldberg. Such moronic violence also spoils the illusion of this film. As I endured this garbage, I was always wholly aware a vengeful killer wouldn't be so inventive with his sadism, more like Kastrissios simply using Christian as a vessel for his own contrived homicidal fantasies.

Oh, you think I'm wrong? Sorry, the folks behind me in the cinema, judging from their reactions, seemed to quite enjoy the sight of Christian butchering his foes in the most elaborate manner possible. So if the director was attempting to show violence as totally repulsive and joy-free, I guess he missed his target (not that I believe that was his intent).

Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" changed forever the way I perceive violence in cinema. I guess it "resensitised" me to cinema violence, which is a good thing: I even felt horrified when Robert Redford took a bunch of fives in "The Candidate." That said, I do have a high threshold for movie violence, but there must be some psychology, or a character to care least SOMETHING. Hey, I sat through "Eden Lake" at MIFF 2009 and, although it was a bit silly in places, not to mention horribly depressing, it held my attention and earned my praise. It had psychology, it had genuine horror, not to mention an unforgettable conclusion. I can't even recall how "The Horsemen" ended. That's how dull it was, and I left soon after Kastrissios began his self-indulgent prattle about what influenced him to make the film (why couldn't he just say "I was an unloved child who was beaten by nuns" and be done with it?).

"The Horseman" is bereft of psychology; it's actually more boring than repulsive. I battled with heavy eyelids in this truly bland and monotonous blood fest. It’s totally undeserving of being show overseas (unless, of course, Uncle Sam has use for the movie in Guantánamo Bay, but I believe the Humane Society would have something to say about using this trash as a tortue device on detainees).

In short, this film is UTTER TWADDLE! I cannot believe films such as "Last Train To Freo" and "The Independent" miss the radar, whereas this hokum is set for a season at ACMI and elsewhere.

See this cinematic equivalent of chopsticks shoved into your eyes at your own risk.

P.S: I believe the reviewer should read Paul Verhoeven's explanation of "RoboCop," which explains precisely WHY Murphy/RoboCop spends the second half of the film "cleaning up street scum." The "contradiction" of "RoboCop" is ENTIRELY intentional by Verhoeven and highlights the eponymous character as being the "Modern American Jesus" Verhoeven interpreted. Yeah, "RoboCop" is brilliant, but "The Horseman" is garbage and doesn't rank close.


rbk (11 years ago) Reply

With due respect to the above rant, I loved this film. And yes, Kastrissios 'gets it'. Powerful experience, great review and I recommend all to see this little Aussie gem.


twinkle (11 years ago) Reply

i hope the film is less boring than your rant was.


Anonymous (11 years ago) Reply

While my reaction falls somewhere in between the "rant" and the glowing review above, I don't agree that the fathers reaction to the fact of the daughters fate as victim of her own stupidity was badly written/depicted. I think that the violent reactions when this was brought up at times was actually because of this point. He wanted her to be innocent victim and the constant reminder that she wasn't was painful. I think that this may have been the main redeeming feature of this film. It wasn't just "innocent victim revenged". Any interesting psychological depth to be found amidst the blood splatter is here. There is some question as to his moral right to revenge, at least up until the end when we meet the dastardly Derek.


Anonymous (11 years ago) Reply

for the most part i loved the acting of the father. but towards the end the movie became a victim of the genre. the killing became ponderous and repetitive; and that's when the movie became boring. his last three kills were beyond z-grade movie directing and editing, very bush league. The movie was doing good until then.

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