Steven Kastrissios' debut feature as writer, director, producer and even editor is a film that deserves to be seen. It is an unflinching and incredibly forceful film that made me, at least, question the amount of violence I am willing to witness on the screen. Much like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (both 1974 and 2003 editions) and Romper Stomper before it, I found myself feeling incredibly disturbed and wondering "do I really want to watch this?" However, unlike far more nihilistic and violent films such as The Passion of the Christ and Saw, the film around it is so incredibly strong and powerfully made that the violence is there to truly serve. It makes you question the lengths people will go to for justice, and the depths of depravity that lurk beneath the surface of even the most peaceful individual.
Peter Marshall stars as Christian Forteski, a divorced father whose daughter has recently died of a drug overdose, but there lies a far more devastating secret lying behind her death. He seeks out to get revenge on those who perhaps didn't kill the young Jesse (Hannah Levien), but didn't try to save her either. The methods he uses are gruesome and, for the men in the audience, particularly irksome. Blood sprays with wild abandon, but it's not for fun. Nobody will be getting enjoyment out of it. It's brutal and almost unbearably upsetting. If I am making The Horseman out to be just another horror flick, then I don't intend to.
Along his way Christian befriends are lonely hitchhiker, Alice (Caroline Marohasy), and finds within her a kindred spirit to his lost daughter. The film, thankfully doesn't make this storyline into a vile romantic one like you would expect out of the latest Nicolas Cage vehicle. The film's biggest strength, however, is the performance of Peter Marshall. In his first lead role - hell, his first substantial role of any kind - is astonishing to watch. It's one of the most intense and fiery performances of recent years. It's hard to imagine where Marshall got all the anger and nastiness from to inject it into his performance. He is absolutely devastating to watch, and even when the film becomes a splatter sport he keeps the effort up all the way. It's a marvel of a performance.
Kastrissios' direction too is incredibly well done. Memories of Geoffrey Wright are inevitable, especially for the film's final scenes. They are so claustrophobic in their intensity and so physically and psychologically draining that even though it has the tendency to fall into sloppy editing, it remains intense and disturbing. The Horseman is an incredible accomplishment and one that deserves to find an audience, an audience that knowing the Australian film industry of late, will be hard to come by. It's a shame really, because this film is the sort of independent cinema that should be championed, rather than yet another tired journey through the lives of miserable drug addicts. A-