In recent years, the horror genre has moved towards a particular kind of style, especially in relation to supernatural thrillers, that arguably defines this generation. The style in question is the much maligned ‘found footage’ format, popularised by The Blair Witch Project and typified by the likes of the Paranormal Activity series. Like all trends, for as many new avenues it has opened up, it has also seen some filmmakers falling into easy cliché and the quality among these films vary wildly. As effective as it can be when applied in an intelligent manner, there is something I personally find lacking compared to the slow burning mysteries of the past. James Wan’s The Conjuring arguably stands as the most successful return to this classicism of prestige style mystery horror in recent years, and now Michael Petroni’s Backtrack stands alongside it as a quietly effective piece of genre cinema; a film that forgoes obvious visual gimmicks for a more traditional sensibility, one that proves remarkably enthralling and satisfying.

Backtrack follows psychologist Peter Bower, a man still grieving the loss of his young daughter, whose life is suddenly thrown into disarray when he realises his patients aren’t real…but visions of people long dead. Are these visions ghosts? Are they the result of a damaged mind? Or are they an omen of something else…something more primal, buried deep in Peter’s past that he must uncover?

While The Sixth Sense is the most obvious cinematic parallel to the film, Backtrack also feels reminiscent of Nicolas Roeg’s seminal Don’t Look Now and David Koepp’s underrated Stir of Echoes, in terms of the weight of trauma and the resonance of memory. Even more so it shares a confidence of structure, as the narrative is taut and assured throughout, playing with audience expectation in a way that replicates Peter’s own disorientation; Just when you feel you have mastery over the film, a slight shift changes the perspective ever so slightly, reflecting the key theme of the fragility of memory. It’s a tremendously enjoyable experience, especially as it never feels like a grandstanding tactic distracting from tone and momentum of the film. The ghosts of the past linger on the fringes of each frame, helping establish an atmosphere of dread and an almost investigative dedication to detail.

Unquestionably the film’s strongest quality is remarkably assured composure and style in the visual composition. There is nothing eye popping about the aesthetics of Backtrack, it’s not a tour de force of dizzying camera movement or innovative in editing or cinematography; but above all else the visual palette and craft on display is remarkable for its cohesion of vision. Backtrack is a film of dark shades; blacks, greys, greens, browns and blues coalesce into a palette that reflects the murk and confusion of Peter’s mind, and the omnipresence of his demons; while tight editing and framing reflect the ever constricting weight of truth and feelings of guilt that torment him. It’s a style that is able to articulate much about the Peter as a character, while shaping a sombre tone of ominous and creeping evil.

In the lead role of Peter, Adrien Brody delivers one of his strongest performances in recent memory. Like the film itself, it’s not a bombastic performance of incredible emotional range, but rather it is in the subtlety of his performance that he shines. Brody is able to articulate Peter’s tremendous pain and damage through body language and slight emotional reveals; the trauma isn’t explosive, it’s eaten away at him and lingers in every subtle gesture.

It could be argued at times that the subtlety of the film can lead to a detachment, particularly in terms of emotion, where the weight of the trauma suffered by Peter, while performed with grit and devastation by Brody, never really hits a dramatic peak, one that the early part of the film teases so successfully. At times, it does feel like the drive to uncover the mystery overshadows what could have been moments of introspection and a deeper understanding of the nature of grief, which I believe would have made the film even more compelling. Also, the simplicity of the film can be seen as something of a double edged sword as at times the momentum of the film becomes almost languid purely because the narrative is so straight forward and reminiscent of past films that it risks becoming more than just familiar…but derivative. However, I personally feel like this familiarity is inherent in the classical nature of the style; as an exercise in genre cinema, the construction provides pleasure in form rather than the sense of something withered and worn.

Backtrack is composed and assured psychological thriller that (while perhaps too formulaic for some) favours subtlety over more obvious modern horror tactics, creating an almost timeless feel rich with style and atmosphere.

 

Movie Review: Backtrack
3.5Overall Score
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About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980’s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul61@o2.co.uk