Acolytes (2009)

Director Jon Hewitt
Writers Shayne Armstrong, Shane Krause, Joh Hewitt
Starring Joel Edgerton, Sebastian Gregory, Joshua Payne, Hanna Mangan-Lawrence, Michael Dorman
Genre Thriller
Tagline Nothing stays buried forever.

Acolytes is another Aussie horror movie that seems to have been around for quite sometime prior to being released. The movie was announced early in 2008 but didn't raise itself above the radar until relatively recently with a very limited cinema release for Critics and others invited to the screenings. Tickets were available to the public on a very limited bases but most people seemed content to kick back until the DVD was released, which given the cinema run was never going to be too far in the future. The movie finally hit shelves on 20th May 2009 allowing general Reviewers and Horror fans Down Under to check out for themselves a local horror flick that had been receiving strong reviews prior to general release. So did the movie live up to the general good feelings voiced toward it in this country?

Talk us through it

Mark and his best friend James are high school students still getting over the trauma of being victimised by Gary Parker, a bogan who does things because he can. With Gary released on parole, Mark, James, and James's girlfriend Chasely are soon targets again. As luck would have it Mark comes across a serial killer in the woods who is burying his latest victim. The teens track down Ian Wright, office worker by day and sociopath by night. Mark and James decide to blackmail Ian Wright into killing Gary Parker, thus getting revenge and removing a dark cloud form their lives.

Naturally the not so well thought out plan comes apart at the seams very quickly as Ian Wright decides to do some planning of his own. There are dark secrets on the suburban streets and Ian Wright isn't the only one with something to hide.

Ready to see what might be buried in the woods?


"Dirty deeds are done in the basement." - James.

Jon Hewitt starts his movie strongly with some symbolism, a hint that not everything is going to be as it seems, and a carefully crafted mood. We start with a roof top view over a typical suburban townscape, apparently they make Hooker a proud old builder, that fades into a view of what looks like one of those pine forests established for Japanese wood chipping. Took nothing from a couple of peaks plonked in the landscape but visually they were pleasing with a sort of oriental garden atmosphere thing going down. Hey I watch Around the World in 80 Gardens so learn to deal with it okay. The Director cuts to a young chick standing in the forest by some pretty stagnated water, the film is saturated with grey colours here giving an almost euphoria feeling to things. The chick, who we later learn is Tanya, has clearly been victimised judging by the blood, mud, and the general half dressed look going down. Generally Vogue don't claim that as a forest picnic style, but moving along. We next cut to Tanya clearly fleeing something or someone in the suddenly Grimm styled forest, subtle change there by the Director, Tanya is momentarily distracted and runs full tilt into a tree. Now that's got to ruin your day. For no apparent reason she then picks up a monarch butterfly, as you do when fleeing through dark woods at the edge of town, before getting clean up by a speeding car. Keep a note of the butterfly kids, it's not going to be what you think, yet has a sort of synchronicity going down for it as the movie unfolds. Director Hewitt machine guns through his opening scenes to present a wide divergent of images that has the audience wondering exactly what they have just seen and what it all might mean. Everything will make perfect sense by movie end, but you need to keep in mind the opening to make sense of the tangled relationship about to unfold. Hewitt is already serving notice that he is presenting something more than a teens in peril movie.

Having established the ground rules, Acolytes is going to be brutal when needed and play with audience expectations, Hewitt next introduces his three protagonists. James is the alpha male who is a bit of a tool really, Mark is the withdrawn thinker, and Chasely while being in a relationship with James is certainly keeping both boys under her sway. The introduction of the detestable Gary Parker is the right slice of chaos Acolytes needs to get things going into dirty deeds done dirt cheap territory. Gary needs to be thoroughly without any redeeming features in order for the decision our teens make in terms of Ian Wright to make sense. Given James and Marks previously dealings with Gary, shown in excellent flashback fashion by Hewitt, you can well imagine they would embark on a road to payback big time. There's quite some irony there as the plot unfolds.

Hewitt is giving us a two for one deal here, we have a psycho in Gary Parker, and a serial killer in Ian Wright. Parker is simply a bogan enacting his own power for self gratification, Wright has an issue with teen girls. There's one hell of a surprise coming at you in terms of the missing teen who acts like a mist over the local town in the opening act.

Right through the middle of the movie, and this is the best section for mine, Hewitt simply uses his situations, his locations, and implied violence to keep things boiling away toward the final third of the movie. The woods are used excellently to provide some false scares and a few shocks, the urban streets are certainly showing as offering no sanctuary for our Scooby gang, and Ian Wright's basement may hold a few secrets that we really don't want to be exposed to. Yes everything is headed for the basement and I for one was wondering exactly what might be hidden behind the locked door down there.

If the first third of the movie is about setting up motivations, relationships, and generally presenting the overall scenario, and the middle of the movie resolves to be the logical outcome of the teens battle with Gary Parker, then the final third of Acolytes focuses on reaping what you sow and being forced to face the consequences of your decisions. Having got in bed with a serial killer, James and Mark quickly learn that the sheets are likely to be quite blood stained. Ian Wright certainly sees a kindred soul in Mark, but when Mark fails his entry exam, the hitchhiker Petra, Ian sees Mark as a "pussy". Which is exactly how Gary Parker and James viewed him earlier in the film. Notably Mark proves it's the silent brooding types you need to worry about. Of additional interest is the view held by both Gary Parker and Ian Wright that the main interest is Mark with James being of nuisance value only. Hewitt doesn't belabour the point, the audience are left to pick up on it for themselves. Standing ovation time folks, a Director who actually respects his audience!

Director Hewitt adds some stylish touches to proceedings before bringing everything in close and personal in the final act, there's one hell of a shock development coming there as well folks in a chilling performance by a minor character. The Director has his wide angle long shots working well, the forest is for ever brooding and surreal, hits the close ups as required, and pretty much keeps things romping along toward one hell of a resolution. Hewitt keeps his visuals interesting and has a constantly prowling camera.

Interestingly Hewitt hired three teens to play the actual teens in the movie rather than relying on twenty something teens. Great decision as all three actors bring across the brashness of youth, and more importantly the belief young people have that you will live for ever regardless of what insane decisions you make. You can ready believe that a group of teens would think it a real good idea to blackmail a serial killer and would not think through the decision or it's likely consequences.

Before moving along one other touch Hewitt charmed me with was with the soundtrack. We hear the incidental music as Chasely listens to it via her head phones. Nice touch that works exceedingly well in some scenes and surprises in others. Not sure if the Director is trying to convey anything with the effect but I was enjoying it regardless.

Oh and before I forget an excellent reference to A Nightmare on Elm Street, "She's my girlfriend now"!

Joel Edgerton (Ian Wright) got top billing and delivers the expected chilling performance as a serial killer without remorse. Edgerton simply nails it in the best display of character type since John Jarred made us cancel our plans for that trip over to W.A. Sebastian Gregory (Mark) is well cast as the brooding teen who is slightly withdrawn from things. Gregory's performance becomes more pronounced as we learn more things about his character. Underline the name he's going to be appearing in a hell of a lot more movies folks. Joshua Payne (James) gets to play the arsehole, an apparent requirement for horror flicks, and delivers. Would have to see Payne in another role before making a call. Hanna Mangan-Lawrence (Chasely) is cast well and delivers on requirements. And finally Michael Dorman (Gary Parker) screams bogan with energetic glee, you get the feeling he really enjoyed his role judging by the twinkle in his eye.

David Franzke delivered the score and I must admit I didn't take any notice of it. Was there a score? Acolytes is peppered with quite a few rock/pop numbers to hum along with. Sorry way to many to list here, but I would be saving my pin money for the CD folks.

Summary Execution

Acolytes is one of those movies that wraps a big dollop of horror theme in a mystery and throws some surprises into the mix just to keep things interesting. Hewitt delivers on expectations and turns in one of the finest thrillers released thus far this year. I was enthralled by both the movie making craft on display and the above average script thrown my way. Actually must admit to watching the movie once, checking no one would get upset, and throwing the movie into play mode for a second time. There are nuances that multiple screenings will bring out leading me to state Acolytes is a multi textured movie that lingered in my memory for quite sometime post finishing credits.

The movie received the sort of cinema run that is designed to move DVD product via a gradual build up of decent reviews and good word of mouth. Considering, at least down my DVD emporium, there's a huge push on the movie I would hope a lot of Aussies dial into the flick. In an era where Boredwood is simply throwing out conveyor belt tween horror flicks to a yank audience, tell the Distributors you are bloody feed up with below average dark genre fare and want some decent horror flicks, get yourself some local product.

Full recommendation on Acolytes, for those claiming it's a teen movie then go watch it again. Jon Hewitt throws a well thought out thriller at us and asks us to read between the knife cuts. The movie looks at teens and bad decisions, tells us they will make them, and then isn't backward in informing us they will pay for their decisions. If after a fright flick this Friday night go past the yank PG13 avalanche and get yourself a horror flick that means exactly what it is saying.

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

If you are a fair dinkum Aussie horror fan then Acolytes should be on your viewing list.