You know what? I’m not a violent guy at all. I’m actually quite passive, in fact. I don’t have that trademark characteristic of being human, the bloodthirst. I’m actually freaked out by real guns and the people who own them. If you’ve read this site enough, you’ve probably detected a mildly antagonistic liberal bent to my personal politics so it goes without saying that I’m not a big fan of the death penalty, either. I’ll tell you what, though. Of all of exploitation’s many bastard sub-genres, none get my pulse racing quite like a righteous story of one man’s reckless drive for payback. Revenge, suckas. You name it. If it features someone going around and making those who wronged them pay, I am probably a big fan of that movie. I fucking adore Death Wish and I never spare an opportunity to check out the cheap rip offs that came in the wake of liberal Paul Kersey’s transformation into a gun toting street cleaner. There is something within me, some unhealthy fascination with taking matters into my own hands and restoring balance. Should I be worried?
Almost ten years ago I caught up with that Paul Schrader flick, Hardcore. The one with George C. Scott as the straight man looking for his runaway daughter who winds up mired in the porn industry and I quite liked that flick. It’s a little silly at times, bearing the period attitude about porn that it’s only a matter of time before all porn viewers are watching kiddie porn, snuff flicks or are desperate sweaty rapists hiding behind the dumpster next to your apartment complex. It often balks when it should go buck wild and feature George C. Scott tearing a man’s throat out with his bare hands. I’m pleased to announce that Australian director, Steven Kastrissios, has come to the rescue with a film that is alarmingly similar to that Schrader movie but boldly dives into the life and times of a man with nothing to lose on his way to avenging the death of his daughter at the hands of vile pornographers.
The police deliver grim news to Christian one day. The announcement: your wayward daughter is dead; coked up out of her mind, held down by heroin, she passed out on her back and choked on her own vomit. How do you like them apples, sir? Positively beside himself, Christian struggles with his grief until a porno tape inexplicably shows up in the mail called Inner City Sluts 2 which depicts the ragged and rough handling of his daughter at the hands of four naked men. What begins as his attempt to simply buy all the remaining copies of the tape from the distributor so as to stop the fucking world from watching his doped up daughter defiled by these scumbags ends with the distributor getting a knife in the throat and thus begins Christian’s travels along lonely Australian highways, leaving a mounting body count in his wake as he tortures and murders everyone involved in the shoot. Along the way, he picks up another delinquent young lady and begins a stand-in father/daughter dynamic with her that gives him the chance to make up for the lousy fathering he did that put his daughter in the position she ultimately found herself.
On the surface, The Horseman looks like your average revenge movie. It has all the elements. A wronged man with nothing to lose, scummy bad guys just asking to for it, a crowbar for bashing skulls and a tool box full of nasty instruments used for “interrogation”. On this level, The Horseman performs admirably! It is nasty, violent and angry. Christian’s plight is something that we can all tap into. I’m a father. I have a little girl. I live in a constant state of abject terror about possibilities for the future. The central mechanic of the movie, father avenges daughter, is something that latches on to my reptile brain and is immediately compatible with the hardware. Watching Christian bash and stab his way through sadist after sadist is deeply satisfying, almost to the place where I miss the point that Kastrissios is trying to make.
See, Chan Wook Park’s movie, Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance is my gold standard for revenge movies. It’s more than just exploitative messaging trying to thrill that part of us that screams for blood. Your average Death Wish rip off, Death Wish, included, is a movie for lazy people that don’t like poor people. It tosses aside notions of class struggle and taps into that part of the 1974 public anxiety about rising crime in the city but these days, we have much bigger problems as the violence has reached the suburbs so we need to turn to a much more sophisticated subject if we’re going to have a substantial mental meal to meditate on the topic of revenge. Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance was wise to show both sides of the aggressor/victim dynamic and by the time the credits rolled it was pretty clear that dedicating yourself to violence in order to get closure is just a big step in the process of fucking yourself. Kastrissios takes this ball and runs with it.
Through claustrophobic, painful fight scenes. Close up clips of dudes getting their skulls bashed in with a crowbar, desperately fighting for survival in cramped conditions, The Horseman tells a story about how violence breeds violence and that once the cycle is set in motion, there’s no stopping it even if you try. Our hero, Christian, by the time he meets up with runaway Alice, has already killed four men. By the time that he realized that he has a chance at redeeming his fatherly failures, it is way too late and Kastrissios draws this out to its naturally tragic conclusion brilliantly.
Throughout the film I’m constantly reminded of Soderberg’s amazing revenge flick, The Limey. Star, Pater Marshall, carries the same quiet intensity as Terrence Stamp, punctuating long silent patches of the movie with explosive bouts of intense violence that is grimy and vicious. It would be easy to dismiss The Horseman as being as pornographic as the movie within a movie, Inner City Sluts but that’s missing the point since this is a movie about the cost associated with violence. It’s a movie about missed opportunities and closure that never comes. Marshall paints a picture of man driven by anger. In the film’s opening scene, he is clearly a man who takes no pleasure in what he does but intends to inflict maximum pain and terror on his way to the bottom. The Horseman is the sort of revenge movie Michael Haneke would make.
That’s a good thing.