Set in a nudist camp and featuring an existential crisis aggravated by a missing hammer, Patrick could have been an incredibly simple (and indeed, conspicuously obvious) lightweight exercise in quirkiness. Happily, director Tim Mielants avoids such an indelicate approach, tackling the material in a manner that creates layers of irony with a hint of darkness at its core.
Patrick (Kevin Janssens) is a 38-year-old handyman at the lakeside camp owned by his ailing parents. When one of his hammers disappears – closely followed by a death amongst the nudists – the protagonist’s orderly, nondescript existence is thrown into chaos.
It could easily have been frustrating to hang a narrative on a character who isn’t all that emotionally demonstrative, but Janssens gives the title role a complex depth. His performance suggests a rich inner life, despite a seemingly impoverished exterior. Patrick quietly regards the petty intrigue of the campers, many of whom seem to have an agenda that’s well-hidden, despite the fact that their bodies are on full display and remain so for almost the entirety of the feature. Still, the wardrobe budget would have been covered by the spare change found behind the director’s sofa cushions.
But it’s not as though the inherent ludicrousness of grappling with weighty moments while various fleshy appendages swing loose is lost on viewers. There’s a deadpan absurdity that remains a constant throughout the film, with a naked brawl in a caravan provoking a response that alternates between gasps and giggles. The movie also features a surprising supporting role for Jermaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords, What We Do in the Shadows) as a contentedly self-centred musician, introducing a Kiwi accent into the semi-wilds of the Belgian countryside.
While the stakes aren’t necessarily low (but are certainly personalised and localised), it’s unexpected how affecting the whole affair ultimately turns out to be. It’s difficult not to become emotionally invested in Patrick’s strangely beautiful quest to find his missing hammer as his world disintegrates around him.
Patrick is released digitally on demand on 20th November 2020 and later in select cinemas.
Watch the trailer for Patrick here: