Written and directed by Australian filmmaker Steven Kastrissios, The Horseman follows a single father named Christian (Peter Marshall) who works in pest control but decides to take his life on the road when he learns that his daughter has died of a heroin overdose. Christian is shocked to learn that not only did she have a drug problem, but that she was willing to work as a Z-grade porno actress to make enough extra money to support it.
Christian learns this the hard way when he sees a tape of her in action - a tape that showed up anonymously in the mail - but this inspires him to head out across the seedy underbelly of the area to start piecing together who was responsible for this and taking an eye for an eye. Unsure of anything other than that he wants to make someone pay, he sets out on a rather reckless mission, meeting an eighteen year old runaway named Alice (Caroline Marohasy) along the way. Not surprisingly, they develop a somewhat mutual affection for one another as he helps her out with a ride through the barrens and she simply listens to him as he talks, but the closer he gets to finding the truth about his own daughters demise the more dangerous and unsettling things really become.
Taking some inspiration from the George C. Scott thriller Hardcore (in which he chases his daughter through New York City's seedy porno movie scene), The Horseman is well acted, believable, and refreshingly brutal. You thought that Liam Neeson's character in Taken was bad ass? Check out Marshall. His character is far more realistic and far more believable, as he makes mistakes along the way and consistently proves himself to be human. He's not an ultra talented special agent or some sort of superhero, he's a regular guy who loved his daughter and wants to take out his grief and his rage on someone who deserves it. And so he does.
The violence in this film is unflinching. When characters get hurt in this movie, you know it. The camera doesn't shy away from the gory details and the injuries and deaths that occur in plain view of the lens, and as such, our eyes feel very real indeed. People don't go out in this film without suffering, the characters feel it and Marshall does such a good job playing the tormented and unraveling grieving father that you feel for him as well, despite the fact that what he's doing is pretty horrible. The film, however, does do a good job of making sure that we know the people Christian is serving out cold, hard justice are wholly deserving of such treatment. The antagonist cast really are the lowest of the low, dishonorable smut peddlers who don't care who the hurt or whose lives they ruin so long as they get a poke with the talent and make the money that inevitably ruins and ends their lives.
Is the film original? No, not at all, as stated it feels like Hardcore at times with liberal doses of Death Wish and Ms. 45 thrown in but the uniquely Australian settings help to set it apart from the big city revenge films that Kastrissios was obviously influenced by. The camerawork is appropriately grim and gritty, so don't expect a flashy or pretty film but at least the tone of the visuals fits the tone of the story well. Much of the film takes place in the dark, at night or in dirty and soiled locations which adds to the seediness of it all, but again, this isn't a pretty story, and the film needs to reflect the ugliness of its story in its visuals.
The relationship between Christian and Alice may seem a bit convenient in spots, but it works itself out in the end and manages to ground an aspect of the film that could have easily gone over the top. As such, while it feels a bit out of place early on, by the time the film is over you realize it was there for a reason. Ultimately, The Horseman is a refreshingly tough film, a realistic and often times nail bitingly tense picture that is as entertaining and well made as it is unnerving and disturbing.
The DVD sent for review is an unfinished disc and is bugged with a 'FOR SCREENING PURPOSES ONLY' logo that pops up throughout the movie smack dab in the middle of the screen a few times during playback. As such, it doesn't represent final product and no grade shall be assigned.
The English language Dolby Digital sound mix on the disc is well balanced and free of any audible defects. A couple of the more violent scenes get a bit hot in the mix but that just adds to the whole nasty vibe that the movie has going on. Those who have trouble with Australian accents may lament the fact that there aren't any subtitles on the disc, but that issue aside, there's not much to complain about here, the movie sounds good.
The menu screen on the test disc has an extra features section that brings you to a screen that says 'TBD - will appear on live version.' So yeah, that's not really very helpful for the purposes of evaluating the DVD, but the packaging says that the finished disc shall include a commentary and some other goodies.
The Horseman is a tough as nails hard-ass revenge film that pulls no punches. The plot isn't the most original picture, but the execution is unflinching and uncompromising and Steven Kastrissios' direction is complimented by Peter Marshall's entirely believable lead performance. As good as the movie is, the disc sent for review is obviously a work in progress and nowhere near finished product - this makes it a bit tricky to really recommended it, but this is still very much a picture worth seeing for those with an affinity for gritty, nasty, revenge. Kastrissios and Marshal serve it up really cold...
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.