Struggling to cope with the loss of his daughter just a year prior, psychologist Peter Bower (Adrien Brody) and his wife relocate to a different city to start anew. His mentor Duncan (Sam Neill) sets him up with a new roster of clients, and it doesn’t take long for Peter to determine that his new patients seem a bit stuck in the past. This might be because these patients are no longer of the living. Between seeing ghosts and coping with overwhelming grief, Peter must look to the past if he wants to keep a firm grip on his sanity.
Written and directed by Michael Petroni, known for screenwriting credits The Rite and Queen of the Damned, there’s an immediate sense of familiarity with plot points reminiscent of The Sixth Sense. Even the ghosts borrow tricks from other popular fare, with one in particular mimicking Kayako’s croaking from The Grudge. But these tried-and-true tropes are kept to a minimum, as its Peter’s psychological journey that’s the main event. In fact, a lot of the elements introduced during the setup fall by the wayside as the story progresses. Even Peter’s wife, whose introduction paints her as unable to cope with her grief, becomes largely forgotten for most of the running time. Her character could have been removed from the plot entirely and none would be wiser.
The screenplay is riddled with oversights, such as the questionable handling of many characters, but its ultimate downfall is the lack of finesse when handling the overall mystery. The answers come freely and quickly, thereby rendering any surprises or twists obsolete. Petroni perhaps attempted to offset the lack of tension with jump scares, but the supernatural elements seemed out of place with the psychological, melancholic atmosphere.
Despite these flaws, Backtrack remains engaging thanks to the performances of its cast. Adrien Brody deftly carries the film on his shoulders with the depth of emotion he’s able to convey as the grief and guilt stricken Peter. Robin McLeavy does the best she can as the mature Constable Henning, and manages to remain likeable despite the strange logic leaps the screenplay requires you to make about her character. She, along with the talented Sam Neill, Bruce Spence, and George Shevtsov, are unfortunately wasted as underdeveloped plot devices used to propel the narrative forward.
The production values also surpass the screenplay’s limitations, the sound design and orchestral score in particular. Petroni proved more effective as director than screenwriter here, with a beautiful aesthetic to match the haunting score. It’s beautifully shot and feels like a bigger feature than it is.
Petroni delivers a beautiful film with a talented cast that’s able to deliver contrived dialogue with credibility, but it’s unable to outshine the glaring issues stemming from the screenplay. Familiar tropes and plot holes aside, the film is tonally confused. It’s a slow burn psychological thriller yet spoils the mystery far too fast. The supernatural aspect of the plot disappears too soon, save for peppered in jump scares. The basic premise remains intriguing, and the stellar cast will keep you entertained enough to see it through to the end credits. Ultimately, though, it’s a blatant derivative of better films that came before.
Backtrack is currently on early VOD release for Directv, and will release on all VOD platforms February 26, 2016.
Despite a stellar cast and excellent production values, the narrative buckles under the weight of cliches and plot holes.