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 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.