Backtrack is a classic example of a film that just can’t decide what it wants to be. Is it a psychological thriller? A ghostly horror movie? A murder mystery? A family drama? Even as the end credits roll, it’s largely unclear what the film is trying to achieve. It follows the story of an Australian psychologist, played by Adrien Brody, who realises one day that all of his patients are imaginary, and that somehow leads him to the town where he grew up, where he discovers a sinister plot surrounding a train crash, which he thinks he caused as a child. But he can’t remember because of… trauma? And also there’s a murder. And he sees ghosts. Sometimes.
Surprisingly, the plot of the film is fairly coherent as it’s being told, although there are a couple of fairly major leaps of logic. The slow unfolding of the mystery is satisfying, if not particularly weighty, and given a large part of the “action” in the film is internal, psychological, it’s well presented on screen. The cinematography, if nothing else, is intriguing; not afraid to open up the frame, but at the same time, keeping everything generally dark and noir-ish – an unusual tone for the generally sunnier climes of New South Wales.
That said, the inherent risk in tossing plot elements in the air and seeing where they land is that some will hit successfully and some will be distant, distant misses. Backtrack’s attempt at supernatural horror, for one, is both ham-fisted, increasingly convenient and extremely poorly rendered. The fear factor is largely confined to the trusty jump-scare, telegraphed from a mile away in every instance, and the appearance of a ghostly child, which is undoubtedly one of the tiredest tropes of the genre. The mystery elements, though somewhat intriguing, are hampered by mumbled dialogue delivery. Unappealing characters are brought to the screen by a lacklustre cast, who all phone in their lines at almost B-movie quality, amidst occasional obligatory moments of graphic spectacle. There’s no reason for the audience to invest, or even want to invest, in these characters.
It’s disappointing, because there are some very interesting visual elements at play here, and there’s a certain satisfaction in the slow reveal of the mystery. Unfortunately, the film is too heavily laden with wooden acting, overused horror clichés, and just trying to be too many things at once.
Backtrack is released nationwide on 29th January 2016.
Watch the trailer for Backtrack here: