TADFF ’15 Review: Backtrack

The applause in the theatre was tentative as Backtrack ended. This lukewarm supernatural mystery gets unnecessarily dark and the skeptical chuckles in the theatre suggested I wasn’t the only one who found it a bit ridiculous.

Adrien Brody plays Peter Bowers, still grieving for his daughter who died a year ago. He’s a psychiatrist, but he doesn’t feel engaged with his patients, and begins to have nightmares when a girl about his daughter’s age shows up in his practice. Answers only lead to more questions, and he returns to his hometown to solve a mystery going back to his childhood.

The movie relies on several twists, one of which is thankfully very early in the film, since it’s very telegraphed and the genre-savvy will see it coming a mile away. After that, we only learn what’s going on as the characters choose to tell us, which means a few scenes of talking enigmatically around an event before we learn what happened. Halfway through the movie, Peter thinks he’s figured everything all out, and just as you’re sitting there thinking how stupid the explanation is, you remember there must be more because the movie isn’t over. Even when it is, a lot of it doesn’t make sense.

Michael Petroni, who writes and directs, clearly wants to make this an emotional mystery, but he’s caught up in story tropes probably gleaned largely from Lifetime movies. The scares are few and far between, and while there are a few spooky moments, they could easily be removed and leave the film more or less the same. The sad thing is, this could have been more effective as a quieter film, probably not a horror movie. But as it is the whole thing is just melodramatic; it gets in some good startle scares, but it never manages to land the emotional beats (which mostly feel pretty cheap). To make things worse, the score is completely overwrought, and trying to ratchet up the tension in every single scene has the opposite effect: eventually the music just deflates the mood. A few moments of quiet would have done this movie good, but instead it’s as heavily scored as a Road Runner cartoon.

As for the actors, Brody gives it his all, but you can only watch him cry and chew his fingernails so many times before that loses its effectiveness. I’m not even sure why Sam Neill was in this movie, since he was there for all of 6 minutes and his role could have been played by anyone. The entire cast is basically unremarkable, just like the rest of the film.

Backtrack fails to do anything original with familiar territory, so it’s pretty skippable.

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Final Thoughts

With scares few and far between, this movie feels like a slog. The mystery lacks momentum, the characters are mostly cardboard cut-outs, and even the reasonably skilled actors can't rescue it. Some of its ideas are promising, but they don't add up to an effective whole.

Overall Score 2
Readers Rating
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