Backtrack is an Australian mystery movie; part psychological thriller and part horror story. Peter Bower (Adrien Brody) is a troubled man trying to get his life, and his career as a therapist, together after the tragic death of his daughter in an accident. The unpacked boxes in his new home suggests this plan isn’t working out, and it’s probably not a good sign for his marriage that his wife seems to be feeling similar levels of trauma. The location they’re in also isn’t helping the situation since he seems to have moved them into a part of town where it never stops raining. But Peter has bigger problems which are looming on the horizon.
The opening scenario is a stylish, if drab and grey, prelude coupled with a slick title sequence that really sets the tone. Peter soon tries to gets to get back to work helping people attending his practice, but it’s soon pretty clear he needs more counselling than they do. However, 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 very apparent that he’s being haunted by more than just his tragic past. Soon enough these events will lead Peter back to his childhood home where he’s going to have to dig up buried truths and old memories, none of which are particularly pleasant.
If I mention characters with amnesia or possible ghostly goings on it immediately points to a lot of standard movie plot developments, the kind you’ve seen dozens of times before. But this isn’t a major spoiler since a lot of big reveals are given away at around the half-hour mark before things really get moving. If you want to remain completely fresh it’s probably worth avoiding the synopsis for the film at all, but these are just the preliminary details. Although it’s still true that by introducing a few big elements early on some of the momentum is evaporated. It takes time to build back up again before the next batch of reveals and secondary twists come along. But initially certain details and explanations just don’t add up, meaning that there must be more right around the corner.
The cast are all pretty solid though it’s a shame Sam Neill is just here as a minor character. He arrives early on to give some much needed guidance to Peter in the first act before things start to become really strange. More disappointing is that Bruce Spence only appears momentarily as one of the various therapy patients; they all get several appearances but these are little more than bit parts. Once the story moves up a gear and the location changes new supporting players come along, but at least 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.
As a thriller it’s got plenty of foreboding atmosphere and a reasonable classical score. Although perhaps they they should have avoided so many unnecessary jump scares during the running time once the more supernatural ideas come into focus. Is he crazy, is he seeing things, or his this all a manifestation of his guilty conscience? It’s quite a compelling hook but unfortunately the narrative directs our attention to these possibilities far too often. Even before all of the puzzle pieces really start to come together. Some of the visual effects are not particularly great, but the lighting is moody and it holds the chilly tone together. It’s just a shame that all the sudden ‘jolting awake’ moments get old pretty fast.
The real problem is that this is all nothing new; from the memory problems to the restless spirits. The troubled parents dealing with loss are also boilerplate ingredients for this genre. It’s not entirely predicable but does make you start to wonder which of the standard twists are about to start creeping out from the shadows. On the other hand the writer may have added one too many forks in the road. The feeling that this is all wrapping up only half way through doesn’t help the pacing, but it does add to the ongoing drama. Towards the very end things start to get a bit too silly but this is a footnote in the grand scheme of things.
In the end it’s pretty watchable but it’s also pretty far from being exceptional. Ironically this is all a bit forgettable. I have really tried not to include a memory joke here but have failed dismally. Thanks to so many stock elements and clichés it’s unlikely to have any impact on most viewers, though it’s often watchable enough thanks to the central performances. Ultimately 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.
Backtrack premièred at the Tribeca Film Festival and it has since reached us on home entertainment formats and streaming courtesy of Arrow Films.