Patrick: Film Review

This Ozploitation remake is a spookily effective fright-fest.

Sharni Vinson, Charles Dance and Rachel Griffiths star in a creepy retro chiller from Australia.

As spooky props go, an Apple laptop can’t compete with the clickety-clack of an electric typewriter, but in every other respect Mark Hartley’s knowing, contemporary retelling of the 1978 Australian genre classic Patrick is a superior, effectively nerve-rattling update. Working a Gothic, old-school horror vibe and studding the cast with recognizable names, Hartley, who referenced the cult original in his fizzy, Quentin Tarantino-supported 2008 doc Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!, breathes new, tech-savvy life into the tale of a telekinetic coma patient with a deadly obsession.

Tarantino will doubtless be first fan-boy in line when this handsomely mounted genre piece hits the international festival circuit following its premiere this week at the Melbourne International Film Festival. The film opens domestically in October.

The original Patrick, written by Everett De Roche and directed by Richard Franklin (Psycho II) with a nod to Hitchcock, was one of the more commercially successful of the so-called Ozploitation films, the schlocky, low-budget Aussie exploitation films made after the country introduced an R rating in 1971. Rather than oodles of gore and violence, it relied on the insinuating creep of an intriguing premise. But the execution was clunky and its brightly lit, antiseptic setting actually leeches the film of atmosphere.

Hartley’s version, scripted by Justin King with the original Patrick’s Antony I. Ginnane on board again as producer, faithfully recreates grand guignol moments from the original, including an icky frog-munching scene and the memorable stained-glass-window finale, but darkens the mood considerably, sparking up proceedings with frequent horror jolts and a contemporary dose of the red stuff.  

Jackson Gallagherplays the eponymous central character, the bedridden young man in room 15 of a creepy and remote psychiatric clinic by the sea. He lies mute with eyes wide open - “170 pounds of limp meat attached to a comatose brain,” according to Dr. Roget (Game of Thrones’ Charles Dance), the resident mad scientist given to conducting cruel and unusual experiments on his patient. Newly arrived nurse Kathy Jacquard (Sharni Vinson, of the upcoming home-invasion horror film You’re Next) knows better.

Like the title character in Brian de Palma’s Carrie (also getting a reboot), Patrick has psychokinetic powers, although there’s no sympathy generated by his murderous back story, revealed in flashback. He initially communicates with the pretty young nurse through seemingly reflexive spitting (Tarantino gave a comatose Uma Thurman the same tic as a tribute to the original Patrick in Kill Bill: Vol 1) and then, as he begins to fall for her, Patrick stalks Kathy via her computer while anyone who gets close to her falls prey to his electricity-harnessing powers.  

Hartley knows his genre films. The director, who followed up Not Quite Hollywood with 2010’s Machete Maidens Unleashed!, about American genre filmmakers working in the Philippines, takes classic horror movie talismans - lighthouses, meat lockers and creepy laboratories - and milks them for every ounce of queasy suspense. Having learnt a lesson from Jamie Blanks’ disastrously slavish 2008 remake of the Aussie horror classic Long Weekend, Hartley is unafraid to challenge the material, adding detail and extending the action beyond Patrick’s room to the under-lit bowels of the neo-Gothic seaside asylum and outside to the nearby town, which cowers under menacing thunderclouds.

Technically a quantum leap forward from its cult predecessor, Patrick benefits greatly from top-drawer production design by Robbie Perkins, Italian composer Pino Donaggio’s(Don’t Look Now, Carrie, Dressed to Kill) textured orchestral score and cinematographer Garry Richards’ skillful shadow-play. Pacing is spot-on, ramping up to a final-act crescendo of pedal-to-the-metal midnight madness.

Dance adds another great villain to his repertoire, Rachel Griffiths is superbly uptight as the hospital’s Matron and Peta Sergeant impresses in a small role as a saucy nurse. It’s an unusual horror film that features a largely motionless protagonist devoid of expression, but Gallagher manages to convey psychotic hostility through unblinking eyes, although his smooth good looks are less disconcerting than the pop-eyed weirdness of the original actor, Robert Thompson.


Venue: Melbourne International Film Festival

Production company: F.G. Film Productions

Cast: Sharni Vinson, Charles Dance, Rachel Griffiths, Jackson Gallagher

Director: Mark Hartley

Screenwriter: Justin King

Producer: Antony I. Ginnane

Executive producers: Bill Fayman, Jeff Harrison, Phil Hunt, Ann Lyons, Compton Ross

Director of photography: Garry Richards

Production designer: Robbie Perkins

Costume designer: Aphrodite Kondos

Composer: Pino Donaggio

Editor: Jane Moran

Sales: Bankside Films, London

No rating, 96 minutes