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Adrien Brody sees dead people in Michael Petroni‘s (Till Human Voices Wake Us) derivative ghost story about a psychologist literally being haunted by the ghosts of his past. But while the Oscar-winning actor delivers a typically intense turn in this Australian thriller, the film doesn’t manage to shed its overwhelming air of familiarity and obvious debt to such genre predecessors as The Sixth Sense, among countless others. Having recently received its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, Backtrack seems mainly destined for a future on VOD and late-night cable.
Shrink Peter Bowers (Brody, sporting an effective Aussie accent) should clearly be more selective in the choice of his patients, as his latest arrival claims to be a musician working at a long-shuttered jazz club and who seems to think that the year is 1987 and Ronald Reagan is the current U.S. president.
Things get even stranger with the mysterious appearance of a hooded young girl who says that her name is Elizabeth Valentine. Her initials eerily correspond to Evie, Bowers’ late daughter who was run over by a car while her father was briefly distracted.
Other strange goings-on prompt Bowers to seek advice from fellow shrink and mentor Duncan (Sam Neill), who gently suggests that Elizabeth is merely a figment of his tormented imagination.
Eventually Bowers seeks to get to the root of his unnerving experiences by returning to his hometown, where he’s reunited with his father (George Shevtosv), an alcoholic ex-cop from whom he’s clearly estranged. We eventually learn that, as a teenager, Bowers and a friend accidentally caused the derailment of a train that resulted in the deaths of 47 passengers, Elizabeth Valentine having apparently been among them.
A series of flashbacks depict the fatal accident, although the director-screenwriter reveals a few more storytelling tricks up his sleeve, with the event proving to have been far more complicated in its causation than we’ve initially been led to believe.
The filmmaker effectively creates a sustained atmosphere of ominous tension throughout, with the exception of a few cheap jump scares that devolve the proceedings into familiar horror movie territory. But the real problem with the film is its overly complicated and contrived screenplay that essentially transforms the spooky proceedings into a wan murder mystery.
Lacking the stylistic finesse that might have compensated for its schematic narrative deficiencies, Backtrack lives up to its title all too well.
Production companies: Head Gear Films, Metrol Technology, Screen Australia, See Pictures
Cast: Adrien Brody, Sam Neill, Robin McLeavy, Bruce Spence, Jenni Baird
Director/screenwriter: Michael Petroni
Producers: Jamie Hilton, Antonia Barnard, Michael Petroni
Executive producers: David Evans, Phil Hunt, Compton Ross
Director of photography: Stefan Duscio
Production designer: Elizabeth Mary Moore
Editors: Martin Connor, Luke Doolan
Costume designer: Justine Seymour
Composer: Dale Cornelius
Casting: Nikki Barrett
Not rated, 90 minutes
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