Blu-ray Review: The Aussie Revenge Thriller ‘The Horseman’

Now on DVD and Blu-ray from Screen Media Ventures’ is the Aussie thriller The Horseman. Directed by Steven Kastrissios, the pic explore the dark fantasies we all dream up as Christian (Peter Marshall) grieves over the suspicious death of his teenage daughter. As he travels through rural Queensland to investigate, he picks up Alice (Caroline Marohasy), an awkward young runaway and an unlikely bond develops. But as the crime is pieced together, an ugly truth is revealed and Christian spirals down a dangerous path. Check out the opening scene below, along with David Harley’s Blu-ray review.
Is it mere coincidence that I just watched Paul Schrader’s Hardcore? The story, which has George C. Scott running all over L.A. with a private detective (Peter Boyle) and porn “actress” looking for his missing daughter who got lost on a trip to California and is later found in a porno, seems to have influenced the setup of Steven Kastrissios’ The Horseman, a gritty Australian revenge film that knocked me flat on my ass this year at SXSW.

However, instead of a man looking for his daughter, The Horseman has Christian (Peter Marshall) looking for his daughter’s killers. While grieving her death, Christian receives a porn video in the mail, showing his daughter being gang-banged while appearing to be drugged out of her mind. He finds the address for the distributer, gathers his tools – he’s an exterminator – and hits the road to maim and murder everyone that had anything to do with her death and seedy lifestyle.

This guy doesn’t take revenge the typical way, though; shootings aren’t elaborate enough for Christian. Instead, he opts for penis torture. We’re talking fishing hooks, drill bits, bicycle pumps, the works. It makes Hostel II‘s infamous scene seem G-rated in comparison – and that one had me holding onto my manhood the first time I saw it – without ever really showing anything. The act of implying these cringe-and-shriek-worthy acts is a testament to the film’s power over its audience and the physically draining journey it takes them on.

While he’s on his travels, he picks up Alice (Caroline Marohasy), a young hitchhiker who he develops a father-daughter relationship with. This never bogs down the story or brings it to a total standstill like a lesser film would. What’s most intriguing about the interaction between the two characters can be summed up in this moment that takes place in a motel, where Christian shoots her this look that makes one think he might be having some “impure” thoughts about Alice and you’re left wondering during the rest of the film if he’ll eventually cross the line or stay focused on his revenge scheme. It doesn’t end up rearing its head again but Kastrissios commented that the original cut was an hour longer during his Q&A. It featured some more character development and exposition, and I wonder if this was a subplot that was explored more there.

In an age of over-choreographed fight sequences, The Horseman‘s realistic, but sloppy, fights are like a breath of fresh air. Christian is new at this whole revenge thing and instead of having him be well-versed in kung-fu or the art of street fighting, he’s out there throwing his fists around fairly amateurishly in the beginning and just generally making a mess of things. This is the first film in a really long time that warrants the raw and gritty feel it’s going for and the nature of these fight scenes really solidify the film as a great throwback to the grimy revenge films of the 70s, more so than either of the Grindhouse full-length features.

Peter Marshall’s performance as Christian also deserves a lot of praise. His character does a lot of depraved things over the course of the film and even as he spirals out of control, he never makes you turn on him. You’re there with him the whole way as he searches for answers, crosses the line more than a few times and searches for redemption. His whole character arc is laid out for you, which is impressive considering how little exposition is actually given, and almost everything he does seems plausible and real. This isn’t a character with healing powers (superhuman strength during a few parts perhaps); he’s just a normal, everyday guy that’s maybe in over his head. He struggles towards the third act, cuts and bruises in tow, and by the end of the film, he makes Paul Kersey look like Adam West’s Batman.

The Blu-Ray’s VC-1 encode is merely average, giving way to some deep, rich colors but uneven… well, everything else. The film was shot digitally with a 5-digit budget, so its appearance is perfectly understandable but nonetheless disappointing. Compression and noise reduction problems are evident throughout, and several instances of a soft picture make flesh tones and neutral colors look washed out and indistinguishable from each other. However, not all is lost; several of the torture sequences look incredible. The DTS-HD 5.1 mix is serviceable, but given the events that take place in the film, there isn’t much to work with in terms of strong sound effects. Separation of sound effects are handled quite well during the fight scenes and the final scene with rain makes you feel like you’re right in the middle of the downpour. My biggest complaint about the audio is that dialogue is hard to hear throughout.

The Horseman is an exceptional entry in the revenge genre, filled with seat-squirming scenes and an identifiable anti-hero that never delves into self-parody or comic book character status. Between this and Greg McLean’s work, Australia seems to have made quite a mark this decade with their inspired genre films.

Special Features

Commentaries – One track features Katrissios flying solo, while the other features the director, producer Rebecca Dakin, and star Peter Marshall. Personally, I think the director only commentary is better, simply because he provides a really good account of what happened on set and how he got the film off the ground – which is great for director hopefuls out there.

Making of The Horseman (35:58) – The cast and crew discuss the transition between working on the short and the feature length, focusing mostly on the latter from pre to post. Some segments are almost a blow-by-blow account of certain days on set, and it’s really interesting to see the shooting conditions of an excellent film made on the cheap.

Deleted Scenes (9:05) – Three deleted scenes are included in the collection with optional commentary by Katrissios. The scenes are actually quite good and they make sense within the context of the film (one focuses on his grief), but they all take place within the first act and would’ve slowed down the film tremendously. I got a chance to interview Katrissios a few weeks ago and he mentioned tons of footage of Alice and Christian that was cut out, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed it’s not included on the disc. Optional commentary with Katrissios is also included.

The Horseman Short Film (14:42) – Described as a test run, this short film basically depicts the events that take place in the opening of the feature. It stars Jack Henry as Christian – who plays Finn in the full-length – as he beats the ever-living hell out of a porn distributer. Optional commentary with Katrissios is also included.

Cast and Crew Interviews (20:32) – A collection of three interviews, featuring Caroline Marohasy (Alice), Peter Marshall (Christian), and Stunt Coordinator Chris Anderson. They’re the fairly standard back-patting affair you’d expect from DVD/Blu-Ray special features; talking about their experience on set, how they got their roles, and how much they love working with everyone.

Film: 4/5
Blu-Ray: 3.5/5