Acolytes is an Australian horror flick that doesn't know what it wants to be. It's moments as a pure unadulterated horror movie are great. The scenes in the forest and the basement climax are well done, but it's almost as if director Jon Hewitt (Bloodlust) didn't want to just make a straight scare flick and decided to throw a whole bunch of unnecessary heavy handed drama to the mix. Not that that should be discouraged, but it dampens what could have been a good ol' solid fright flick.
The movie, as it stands, is about three teenagers, James (Joshua Payne), Mark (Sebastian Gregory) and Chasely (Hanna Mangan Lawrence) who routinely wag school, smoke pot and walk around hitting things with sticks as Australian teenagers are want to do. Two of the three have a traumatic event in their past that rears it's ugly head again when the perpetrator is released from prison. James' girlfriend Chaseley is along for the ride as the common factor in a love triangle between the boys.
As the three begin to investigate a grisly discovery in the forest - one of the film's strongest sequences - it all starts to get a bit unfocused. I know the storyline revolving around Michael Dorman's shady character, whose participation in the plot I will not ruin for you, is ultimately incredibly vital to the whole film's development, it also proves to be a red herring to what the film is actually about. Especially when the far more sinister character played by Joel Edgerton, supporting this Aussie flick as the only "name" actor in the cast, takes centre stage.
The film has problems far beyond those of story structure mind you. The dialogue in the first act is quite stilted and the way Hewitt films it never once removes the illusion of this being a F-I-L-M. Even if characters did talk and act like this in real life (which they do not), the performances by the two boys don't help. There's a knack to casting debut actors and this film didn't pull it off, unfortunately. Lawrence's performance is impressive though, particularly towards the end where she gets to put her substantial lungs to good use. It is, however, blindingly obvious who the professional actors are in the bunch - that'd be Edgerton and Dorman - and who are not. Sue Dwyer has a delicious cameo as the mother of Dorman's character and gives one of the most perfect recreations of bogan middle class Australia I've seen in a long time.
Technically Acolytes is tops. Wonderful cinematography by Mark Pugh especially in those outdoor sequences, editing by Simon Marton and supurb sound and music design help in giving the film a more polished feel than other Australian entrants into the genre game. I can't help but feel though that when it comes to the middle part of the film, especially, director Hewitt ruined any chances of having Acolytes be one of the great Aussie horror flicks. By toning down the horror and turning up the more brain heavy aspects of the script by debut screenwriters Shayne Armstrong and Shane Krause he simply tries to do too much with a story that doesn't demand it. C+