My notes on The Horseman (2008)A pared-down Australian revenge picture, which evokes Paul Schrader’s takes on The Searchers in Taxi Driver and Hardcore and treads a fine line between vigilante fantasy and a rougher, more numbed fable about a father who channels guilt into violence.
Pest exterminator Christian (Peter Marshall) tracks down everyone who took part in a rough, low-rent porno shoot (City Sluts 2) which led to the death by overdose of his presumably-estranged daughter Jessie (Hannah Levien). Applying brutal force, Christian batters and kills the sleazy businessmen and horny thugs who took part in the barely-legal effort – but he also picks up Alice (Caroline Marohasy), a just-pregnant girl with her own issues (as he scars himself to mark his body-count she is a self-cutter), on the road. He makes some tentative moves to make up for his failings with his dead daughter by offering the live girl non-judgmental advice and showing a more tender, decent side to her – however, in the climax, his murderous spree imperils her as they are both caught by a crooked cop, who turns them over to criminal bigwig Derek (Brad McMurray) who is a lot harder to deal with than the flabby, gutless hangers-on he’s terminated so far. It does indulge in the usual revenge movie trick of presenting a situation whereby the hero and his kin have suffered so much that almost any level of ultra-violence is queasily satisfying if applied to a villain – a sulky wife who has kicked this all off by sending a copy of the porn video to Christian comes home to find him tugging on a fishhook caught in the miscreant’s scrotum and responds to the avenger’s question of ‘what did you think would happen?’ with a bland ‘something like this.’ But cracks appear – one participant, who was unhelpful but less culpable, pleads that he has a family of his own, and seems to get off more lightly.
The sustained final act finds the avenger at the mercy of Derek’s posse, who are as practiced as he is in torture and murder, and demonstrating superheroic skills (including snagging a handcuff key to free himself from a torture chair) to take out the evil posse, though we note that Alice still suffers appallingly because of him. Marshall is excellent, and writer-director Steven Kastrissios pays as much attention to the quieter moments as the grimly-staged violence – the script doesn’t spell out the backstory prosaically, but lets a few hints slip that enable us (and Alice) to guess at the fractures in Christian’s family which led to Jessie’s ashes being split between urns given to her separated parents. It’s certainly worth comparing with the tougher Aussie films of the 1970s showcased in Not Quite Hollywood, and even manages to be influenced by the tied-to-a-chair-and-tortured school of horrors without feeling overfamiliar.