Backtrack is a Australian mystery and psychological horror story which premièred at the Tribeca Film Festival, but it will be reaching us on home entertainment formats this March courtesy of Arrow Films. Peter Bower (Adrien Brody) is a troubled man; trying to get his life and his career as a therapist together after the death of his daughter in an accident. The unpacked boxes in his new home suggests this isn’t working out, and it’s not a good sign that his wife shares the same traumatised expression on her face. It’s not helping that he seems to have moved them into a part of town where it never stops raining. This is a stylish, if drab and grey opening scenario coupled with a slick title sequence to set the tone. As Peter gets to work trying to help people attending his office, it’s soon pretty clear he needs more counselling than they do. But the worst is yet to come, and after an unscheduled visit from a strange teenage girl things start to veer off into more than a standard mystery. It’s about to become apparent that he’s being haunted by more than just his tragic past.
This will eventually lead Peter to his childhood home where he’s going to have to dig up buried truths and old memories, none of which are pleasant. If I even mention characters with amnesia or ghost stories, it immediately points to a lot of standard plot developments in a movie like this which you’ve probably seen many times before. But this isn’t major spoiler material, a lot of big reveals are given away at around the half-hour mark before things really get going. If you want to remain completely fresh it’s probably worth avoiding the synopsis for the film at all, but these are really just preliminary details. Still, it has to be said that by introducing a few big elements early on some of the momentum is drained away. It’s something which takes time to build back up again before the next batch of reveals and secondary twists come along. You can just feel that certain details and initial explanations just don’t add up, and that there must be another one right around the corner. Things almost feel like they’re wrapping up about half way through which doesn’t help the pacing, even if it adds to the ongoing drama.
The cast are all pretty solid though it’s a shame Sam Neill is just here as a minor character, arriving to give much needed guidance to Peter in the first act before things become really strange. More disappointing is that Bruce Spence only appears momentarily as one of the various therapy patients – though they all get several appearances these are little more than bit parts. Once the story moves up a gear and the location changes new supporting players come along, but everyone does a decent job. Adrien Brody gives a pretty serviceable Aussie accent, spending most of the film looking like he’s been losing sleep and dealing with a lot on his mind. Which of course is suitable for a guy who’s starting to question his own sanity, even if those typical sudden awakening moments get old pretty fast.
As a thriller it’s got plenty of foreboding atmosphere and a reasonable classical score, though they do add a few unnecessary jump scares during the running time when the more supernatural ideas come into focus. Is he crazy, is he seeing things, or his this all a manifestation of his guilty conscience? Unfortunately the narrative directs our attention to these possibilities far too often before the puzzle really starts to come together. Some of the visual effects are not so great, but the lighting and mood generally holds it all together.
The real problem is that this is all nothing new, from the memory problems to the restless spirits and the troubled parents dealing with loss. It’s not entirely predicable but does make you start to wonder which of the standard twists could be creeping up from the shadows. The writers add one too many forks in the road at the very end and it’s here things start to get a bit too silly, but this is a footnote in the grand scheme of things. In the end it’s watchable but far from exceptional. I will avoid making a joke about it being forgettable here. If you’re looking for a mystery in this vein and aren’t expecting any real surprises you could do a lot worse, just don’t expect any mind blowing revelations.