SXSW Review: 'The Horseman'


Straight out of Australia comes a white-hot blast in the face called The Horseman, a film that's really tough to "love," but very easy to admire. Cast from the same acidic mold as brazen Aussie indies like Romper Stomper and Chopper, this is a take-no-prisoners genre flick that I choose to describe as an "emotional thriller," and it's one of the most intense, powerful, and aggressively compelling films I've seen in quite some time. (And fair warning to fathers of daughters: This film will kick YOUR ass, specifically. Be forewarned).

Anchored by a stunning lead performance by Peter Marshall, The Horseman is about a man who just found out that his runaway teenage daughter has died from an overdose. THEN he discovers that she'd appeared in a homemade porno flick just a few days before her death, which leads him to track down the distributors, producers, actors, and drug suppliers from the sex tape -- so he can exact the most horrific forms of revenge imaginable. So while The Horseman is a drama, a thriller, and a twisted sort of horror film, it's also a road movie in which the rest stops are clogged with hatred, violence and death.

Along the way, our anti-hero befriends a pretty teenage hitchhiker who seems to have a lot in common with "The Horseman's" late daughter, and he tries to continue his road trip of retribution without letting his festering malevolence infect his newfound friend. (Obviously the young hitchhiker works as a dramatic counter-weight to our main character's doomed daughter, but she's much more than just a "symbolic" presence, trust me.) To its inestimable credit, young director Steven Kastrissios sets a scene of undeniable bleakness and aggressive ruthlessness, but he always manages to find the humanity in the scariest of places.

The Horseman works as a basic, satisfying "revenge thriller," in that it presents a simple story full of rage, retribution, and catharsis -- but it's so much better than that, really. It takes the impotence, the anger, and the fury we all feel sometimes, and whittles it down into one rock-solid thriller that powers forward from frame one and never takes the easy way out. Only time will tell if The Horseman will survive to be mentioned alongside films like Deliverance, Death Wish, Straw Dogs, The Last House on the Left and (most specifically) Paul Schrader's Hardcore, but I'd call it one of the most blisteringly intense and effective flicks I've seen in at least five years.


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