Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Horseman

Brutal.  Seriously, unpleasantly brutal.  That is my short review on The Horseman.  Imagine Taken without all the hope, and you will get this movie.

The tone is set immediately.  The film opens with Christian (Peter Marshall) beating a man with a crowbar and asking where he can find a certain videotape.  The man points to a shelf, Christian grabs the tape, and proceeds to douse the man in flammable chemicals and burn him alive.
If you liked Flicka, you'll love The Horseman!
Christian's daughter recently died.  She was found with alcohol, cocaine, and heroin in her system and signs of recent sexual intercourse.  Nobody knew what happened to her exactly, and whoever was with her on the night of her death wasn't coming forward.  One day, Christian receives a VHS tape in the mail, a copy of a cheaply made porno.  Christian's daughter is on the cover.  He puts the tape in a sees his obviously drugged-up and barely conscious little girl in a room with several men, as they prepare to have sex with her.  Thankfully (for the audience), the rest of the tape is not shown.  That is when Christian decides to kill everyone involved in his daughter's death, from the film editor to the drug dealer.  For some people, that might be a bit of an undertaking, but Christian beats, stabs, smashes, burns, chokes and shoots his way across Australia to finish the job.

That sounds like your average revenge story, right?  So what makes this movie so brutal?  Part of it is the obvious lack of expertise of Christian's part.  He is not a former mob enforcer, or special forces, or even a police officer.  He is just an exterminator.  He isn't outfighting the bad guys because he's that much better than them, he is beating them because he is merciless and attacks before they know that they are in danger.  He also spends a decent amount of time torturing his victims; I will give the film props for being inventive, but I don't ever want to see another movie that implies a bike pump being stuck up a urethra.  I suppose I should be thankful that it was implied and not shown, but I'm not a fan of either.  There is way more torture than I'm comfortable with in this film, but at least it makes sense in the context of the film and doesn't seem to be gratuitous.

The acting and directing in this film is okay, but I don't recognize any of the names from this Australian film.  Peter Marshall is definitely the most emotional vigilante killer I have ever seen on film, but I wasn't terribly impressed with his overall performance.  When he was being tough, it felt abrasive --- that's a choice by the filmmakers, but not one I particularly enjoyed.  On the rare occasions where Marshall was allowed to emote something aside from rage, though, I thought he did a pretty good job.  When Christian, raging without a target, dumps his daughter's ashes in the trash, only to go through the trash later and get as much as he can back in the urn --- that was very effective.  Later, he has the opportunity to talk to a sympathetic hitchhiker and talks about parenthood, and that scene was excellent, too.  If not for those two scenes, this movie would have been 96 minutes of rage and grief, which is more than I can handle in one sitting.  The Horseman is the first and only film by writer/director Steven Kastrissios.  I am impressed that a first-time writer would make such an emotionally vulnerable sympathetic murderer protagonist.  His direction was serviceable and the story was easy to follow, but the tone was just too bleak for my liking.

The film's tone was the biggest stumbling block to my enjoyment of the film.  The violence is plentiful and it is occasionally shocking, but none of it was fun to watch.  This film has a very voyeuristic touch to it because it exploits the grief of a father.  In any given scene, Christian could have burst into tears as he crippled and maimed his victims.  Oddly enough, those man tears made me more uncomfortable than the graphic violence; that might say something about me, but I would wager that I'm in the majority on this one.  There was just so much grief and so much anger, with absolutely nothing to add hope to this film --- the daughter was dead, so there is no happy ending here --- that the movie really started to weigh on me.  Thank goodness he had the parenthood chat with the hitchhiker; that was a breath of fresh air that helped me finish the last third of the movie.  This is a tough film to watch, but it definitely has some merit.  I just wish it was more enjoyable.

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