Reviewbr> “You were recently in a porn shoot with my daughter. Who did she leave with?” - Christian
In another indictment of the Australian distribution of our own movies it's taken two years for Steven Kastrissios' excellent debut feature The Horseman to become available locally. There was a restricted theatre run earlier in the year, guess to raise public awareness and get some reviews happening, prior to a pretty low key DVD/Blu-Ray release. I eventually stumbled across a copy at JB, showing a lack of advertising by Distributor Umbrella, and immediately slapped down the plastic to purchase. While the quote on the cover by fat ginger Harry Knowles is hardly going to have punters fighting over copies, this is still worth a look friends and neighbours as The Horseman is a mighty fine piece of film making. Okay so it's ultra violent and contains some torture scenes, still I'm going to hopefully convince you to disregard that and put the movie on your viewing list. Director Steven Kastrissios knows exactly what he is doing and uses an in your face approach to make a movie that will make you feel like you have been hit in the head with a sledgehammer. Let's saddle up and ask some questions.
Christian is a pest controller who appears to be estranged from his wife. When he receives a VHS tape in the post showing his daughter, clearly drugged off her scone, taking a leading role in a cheap porn flick charmingly titled Young City Sluts II he cracks. His daughter was previously found dead, chocked on her own vomit, with cocaine, herion, and bodily fluids in evidence. Christian decides some good old fashioned revenge might reset the cosmic balance and sets out to track down the Director, Producer, Actors, and about anyone else involved in the porn film. Along the way he takes a young pregnant girl under his wing. Will Christian find some peace and the chance of redemption on a road trip dripping blood?
You can't get away from the Christian allergy of this movie. The Horseman is a direct reference to the biblical fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse, Revelations 6:8: “I looked and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hell was following close behind him”. The four horsemen of course being the harbingers of the final judgement on mankind. Clearly the lead character being named “Christian” isn't a fortuitous coincidence then. There's going to be some confusion over Christian apparently handing out some old testament retribution, the whole vengeful god thing, since the reference is to the last book of the New Testament, can I get a hallelujah here brothers and sisters. I would suggest folks do some reading if interested, it's the sinners reaping what they sow thing from Revelations being referred to here. Which is a nice tie in really, and rounds out what Steven Kastrissios is alluding to I think, hell surely is following close behind Christian, at least for the local porn exploitation industry.
Steven Kastrissos will drag you into his movie from his first shaky frame of a young girl in some inner city grunge location. Life is short and brutal perhaps. The Director switches immediately to some dude driving a van to an isolated house to carry out a pest inspection. You are caught up in both story lines and wondering how they relate to each other. I almost picked up a Kiwi vibe to the start. We soon learn that Christian, pest dude, is out to eradicate some vermin, Jason Voorhees style! Director Kastrissos' sudden injection of violence caught me by surprised, with the effect being similar to having acid thrown in your face. It's brutal, shot in kinetic bleak fashion, and leaves the audience no out. This is in your face film making that surprises with it's ability to shock even the most jaded dark genre sensibilities.
The structure of The Horseman maintains the audience's attention as Kastrissos tries for something a whole lot better than simply throwing a collection of violent scenes at the screen knitted together with the sort of filler that makes you wonder why they bothered. We learn what the situation is in a series of flashbacks as Christian heads North, the movie is set in Queensland, to find answers to his daughter's death and also to exact vengeance. Adding a whole new depth to proceedings, The Horseman could have simply gone Charles Bronson on us, is the character of Alice, a young hitch hiker heading for Rockhampton who we discover is pregnant. Alice is the sounding board Christian needs to comes to terms with his grief, and his own failings as a father. In one crucial scene Alice asks if Christian still has some business to attend to, Christian replies that no he is finished. Crucially Director Kastrissos has Christian changing directions as well, we are headed south to Brisbane as Christian comes to terms with his anger and grief. Naturally, since the character is the Horseman, there's going to be one hell of a twist coming at you that drives us into the shattering conclusion that will have you on the edge of your seat. This is simply excellent film making with the Director showing he has an eye for elevating what should be a simply revenge flick to realms of art.
There's been a number of criticisms levelled at The Horseman, some justified but a lot that simply miss the point of the movie. Chief criticism is how a middle aged dude like Christian can deal to a group of twenty year olds and take the amount of punishment he is on the receiving end of. Clearly, for starters, the character is pretty fit and hasn't been a wilting violet previously, though Kastrissos doesn't make any reference to previous experience in violence. But Christian is a driven man, he has revenge between his teeth and in the second half of the movie has almost substituted Alice for his deceased daughter. Christian has a single purpose and follows that purpose regardless of damage to himself. A man driven to the edge of the abyss is apt to show a lot more tenacity that we would normally given him credit for. Christian finds strength in his anger and grief, and unleashes an almost primeval berserker rage that overcomes age differences and weight of numbers. Director Kastrissos makes a strength of this aspect of the movie.
Behind the camera Steven Kastrissos is restricted by budget but gets the best out of limit resources. His scene cuts are striking, in many cases going from a normal aspect to a view of blood and destruction that will blow you off your chair. During the fight scenes, it's filmed in realistic brutal fashion, there are kinetic camera flourishes that puts the viewer right in amongst the flying blood. Quite the achievement. In between Christian deciding on which implement to get out of his ever present toolbox, the Director also shows an absolutely wonderful ability to make his dramatic scenes work and keep his sub plots rolling. An overall excellent approach that will leave you wide eyed, bushy tailed, and sweating on a follow up movie. Sorry don't have any news on Kastrissos' next project at the moment folks.
The score by Ryan Potter adds an eerie surreal beat to the movie and surprisingly, given the haunting notes, works like a charm for the visuals. It's quite the accomplishment.
Guess I should finish with some the violence in the movie. Steven Kastrissos goes with a Tobe Hooper, circa The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) approach. While the claret is flying around, you will believe you are seeing more than you actually do. The Director skates right up to the boundary but manages to navigate on the edge without dropping into the chasm that is gorenography. Yes the movie is brutal and in your face, but in order to deliver the impact of the inherent themes, that's a requirement. The Horseman is not a movie that has violence for violence sake, it elevates well beyond that level.
I was certainly left slack jawed and speechless as the end credits rolled. The Horseman is simply an excellent piece of film making that is unapologetic in it's approach to the source material. New comer Steven Kastrissos has delivered a classic of modern Australian film making and an exuberance that will stick with the audience. This is a multi layered cinematic masterpiece that deserves wider distribution than it currently has. I look forward to what the Director may have in store for us next. Go saddle up for The Horseman, the ride is irresistible.
ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...br> br> A classic that somehow rises above it's issues.