By James Kenney (first published in February 2016, at WhatchaReading.com)
My Stealth Cinema series carries on with Backtrack, a tidy little ghost story starring Adrien Brody, who has been appearing fairly regularly in these overlooked releases, last seen performing in the unremarkable gangsta robbery picture American Heist. Here he uses his expressive, wiry intensity well as psychologist Peter Bower who, already traumatized by his daughter’s death, is visited by some very agitated patients and troubled by ominous dreams. His mentor, played by the formidable Sam Neill, knows that Bower isn’t ready to confront various repressed secrets from his past, starting with the moment of his daughter’s death.
I feel no need to share more than that, other than Backtrack does a respectable job generating a tense, creepy atmosphere which it efficaciously sustains over ninety minutes. The intrigue that writer-director Michael Petroni capably establishes in the exposition and initial complications of the plot may lead viewers to anticipate more than is eventually delivered; the film is good enough that you may become optimistic it will climax in some ingenious, sly way you didn’t predict, but the plot actually resolves a bit too prosaically, tying up its loose ends in a mildly unsatisfying way.
But a film that is good enough so that its ending vaguely dissatisfies is much better than a film that fails to engage, and strewn throughout Backtrack are atmospheric irritants that uphold the ominous mood. The movie is a bit like distant creepy whistling in the dark, never quite grabbing hold but keeping the viewer perturbed throughout.
Aussie director Petroni, who made TILL HUMAN VOICES WAKE US, starring Guy Pearce and Helena Bonham Carter, returns to the director’s chair with a feature that is, yes, a bit derivative of The Sixth Sense. However, the Aussie setting, well-captured for maximum foreboding by cinematographer Stefan Duscio; the luxurious evocative score by Dale Cornelius; and honorable performances by a supporting cast of solid professionals who play it straight (including Bruce Spence, best known from Road Warrior and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, Aussie veterans Robin McLeavy and Jenni Baird, and relative newcomer Chloe Bayliss, who all make strong impressions) result in another small success story in a world of increasingly toxic hundred-million dollar event movies. Playing on one lonely screen in Manhattan, but available on Video on Demand (and soon on DVD), Backtrack is another honorable Stealth Cinema release for those who like their thrills on a human scale. You could do much worse than the unsettling Backtrack.