SXSW: Quint reviews THE HORSEMAN and THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT! One was awesome, the other was The Haunting in Connecticut!
Published at: March 25, 2009, 1:11 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. Now that I’ve managed to get some sleep I’m ready to wrap out my SXSW coverage. You’ll probably see this over the next two days as my interviews begin rolling out and my reviews come to a close.
I’m going to look at two more midnight flicks of the fest, one a big, tame studio limp noodle and the other a crazy HARDCORE-ish low budget tale of one Australian daddy you don’t want to piss off.
Since I’m a positive guy, let’s start with the good movie first: THE HORSEMAN
I actually saw this film on a screener, crammed on Harry’s couch with Rav and Capone, with Moriarty, Kraken and Harry sitting in their own chairs… all of us cringing along as the flick played on Harry’s preposterously big screen and envy-inducing 1080p projector.
Even though the film was on my schedule to see theatrically, I ended up with a choice between The Horseman and The Haunting in Connecticut. I had a seat for Haunting, but even then I tried to change my mind, but Horseman was sold out. It all worked out, but if I had been able to see Horseman theatrically then I would have been spared the mediocrity of Haunting.
Anyway, I don’t know what’s in the drinking water in Australia, but the next generation of filmmakers are ridiculously good. Maybe George Miller has engineered a new breed of people willing to go balls to the wall without crossing over into the cheesy category. I don’t know the answer, but I do know that Nash and Joel Edgerton blew me away with THE SQUARE which was the first South By flick I saw and now Steven Kastrissios has made a film that shows all the US studio made “torture porn” type films how it’s really done.
I mentioned above that this film is HARDCORE-ish and I mean that. I hope some of you guys out there have seen Paul Schrader’s ‘70s grit and gut-punch masterpiece starring George C. Scott as a father searching through the seedy porn industry for his daughter. If you haven’t then seek it out posthaste.
The set-up for THE HORSEMAN is very similar, except instead of a father searching for his daughter, we follow the ironically named Christian (Peter Marshall) as he searches down those responsible for his daughter’s death. At first all he knows is that she OD’d, but he receives a porn tape in the mail, showing what happened right before she OD’d. There she is, partaking in group sex, almost unconscious she’s so fucked up.
Christian gathers his tools (he’s an exterminator, appropriately enough) and hunts down the men responsible, delving deeper and deeper into the sleazy world of pornography.
Christian is the perfect anti-hero in my book. He’s justified to a degree, but the guy has clearly snapped. He cuts himself like he’s a 13 year old girl shopping at Hot Topic while listening to the Twilight soundtrack on her black Zune. Christian also goes way above and beyond vigilantism. He not only relishes in torturing these guys for information, but whatever safety catch in his brain that would tell him enough is enough died along with his daughter. He’s like Jack Bauer on steroids.
But unlike Bauer, Christian is still, at the end of the day, an ordinary guy. He does get in over his head and gets beat the fuck up. By the end of the movie I don’t know how he’s still able to stand up he gets so fucked up. So much so that you’re exhausted for him, like you are with John McClane in the very first DIE HARD.
In other words, Kastrissios has made this film very real. It’s not an action movie where fights end and there’s a little purple make-up on the lead’s cheek. Christian walks through hell to find his answers and his own redemption and by the end of it I can’t really say if it was worth it. For me, the audience member, for sure, but for Christian? Can’t say.
The flick is suspenseful, horrifying and, most importantly, involving. You’re with Christian on his trip whether you like it or not. And I found that even when Christian crosses the line I didn’t completely turn against him, which is a testament to Peter Marshall’s performance. The dude has to balance humanity with a deep psychosis and strikes that balance perfectly.
It also helps that those he’s “questioning” and getting his revenge on are huge assholes who deserve everything they’re getting and more, without becoming comic villains. Throughout the whole film there’s a reality to everything, from Marshall’s casting to characterization to photography to action and plot, which is what really makes this feel like a lost ‘70s revenge flick.
And then there are the iconic cringe scenes, which are mostly implied, but nevertheless they work. Wait until you see what happens with the needlenose pliers, the three fish-hooks and the bicycle pump. Holy Jay-Zuss.
All of us in the room loved it and talked excited about it afterwards. We all tried to figure out why the film is called THE HORSEMAN. The flick’s about a regular chump who goes on a bloody rampage to avenge his dead daughter and the title didn’t make any sense to us until Kraken looked it up and found a Horseman is the Aussie equivalent of a Jack of All Trades. Now it makes sense. Christian’s toolbox is varied indeed.
As of now, I don’t think this film has US distribution… Come on Magnet or Lionsgate… step up for this one. It’s a great flick that should the standard for low budget thrillers.
Now the film I’m not quite so enthusiastic about.
The only thing I had seen on the flick before catching it at the fest was the motion poster with the kid puking up the ectoplasm. That was kind of neat.
But I went in cold and left about the same, which is a shame because I had seen and loved director Peter Cornwell’s stop-motion short WARD 13 at Fantastic Fest and loved it. I couldn’t find the full thing online, but I also admit to not looking too hard for it. The website is here, though.
I don’t know exactly who to blame for this movie not working. It clearly tried to take itself seriously, but then goes for the cheapest and cheesiest jump-scares, usually involving only a really loud screech on the soundtrack.
I can tell you the script is lackluster, under-developing all the main characters and unsure of who to follow. The first half of the movie focuses on the teenage boy, dying of cancer, played by Kyle Gallner (who I recognized from his work on Veronica Mars… I notice he was also on THE SHIELD, which would have been a lot less embarrassing to name-check, but I’m two seasons behind on the show, so I don’t think I’ve come across his work on it yet) and then he just kind of disappears for about 25 minutes as his mom (Virginia Madsen) deals with the stuff going on in their new house while the dad pops in and out of the story.
I actually like Gallner and his work here, but the poor guy isn’t helped by the rest of the movie. Virginia Madsen turns in a somewhat likable failure of a performance, but I can imagine that if edited differently her various over-the-top scenes would have worked. There’s a scene where she calls upon God to save her sick son and not to take him away from her that is sucking-air-between-your-teeth bad, but there’s no lead up to it. They just cut right into it.
I have no idea if this movie is what Cornwell shot. I have to imagine he shot more of the dad’s story since he just kind of shows up, has some dialogue with his wife about his alcoholism, then disappears, then sits out in front of a bar, then leaves, then cries while playing the guitar, then shows up 45 minutes later drunk and abusive.
The horror to the story is same-old same-old. Same-old jump scares, reflection in the TV screen jumps, flash-cutting hallucinations, no consistency to what’s real and what isn’t, etc. They try to set up something very interesting… Gallner’s advanced cancer has him undergoing a new treatment that might have side-effects, including hallucinations.
But we know from the beginning that these aren’t hallucinations… because they actually flashback to moments from the opening credits during the hallucinations. If they wanted to play up the “real story” aspect to this they could have and should have focused on the ambiguity, not just use it as an excuse to have the adults not believe the cancer kid for 2/3rds of the movie.
The movie feels very surface-level, like it wasn’t really thought-out. Things happen out of convenience and any subtlety that you think they’re trying to layer in goes right out the window. And then it’s PG-13, so you don’t even have any exploitation elements to fall back on.
The biggest crime of the movie is how they waste Elias Koteas’ sick priest character. They tried to visually homage The Exorcist when he shows up to help and it just made me roll my eyes. Koteas can bring a lot to a film, but he couldn’t save this one.
Thems my thoughts on those two flicks. Now I’m going to watch some Michael Caine movies in preparation for ShoWest (Imported Blu-Rays of THE IPCRESS FILE and ZULU are on the docket tonight)! I’ll be out in Vegas covering that starting this weekend! Before I leave, though, I shall wrap out my South By coverage and get some of my interviews out to you guys. As usual, you can follow me on Twitter here!