It’s become commonplace in the industry to see Australian actors move across the United States and make films in Hollywood, but rarely do we see this occur the other way round. Yet, Adrien Brody – who takes on the lead in Michael Petroni’s Backtrack – is never one to revert to type, evident in his most recent endeavor, the Chinese martial arts drama Dragon Blade, where he starred opposite Jackie Chan. Though admiring his ingenuity in picking roles abroad, regrettably, he’s not picking particularly good scripts.
Brody plays Peter Bower, a psychologist who is struggling to overcome the recent death of his daughter, who was killed in a road accident. Though remaining professional and attempting to help others, he must help himself first – as he becomes convinced that his patients are all ghosts. Though as he digs deeper, and collaborates alongside local law enforcer Barbara Henning (Robin McLeavy), he realizes that many of these visions are hauntings from his own past, as a freak train accident during his childhood becomes a prevalent memory, as he vies tirelessly to piece this all together.
Peter remains an entirely unreliable entry point, which works well in adding elements of tension to this piece as we’re never quite sure if what we’re seeing is genuinely happening, or a side-effect to our protagonist’s internal issues. In a similar vein to recent Aussie horror flick, The Babadook, again we’re seeing how grief and psychological deficiencies are used as a means of displaying terror, as a device to explore tropes of the genre at hand. However, unlike The Babadook, this title is not particularly scary, while all too unsubtle in its execution and the message it’s trying to portray. This is enhanced in the superfluous use of flashbacks, painting too clear a picture for us when a more ambiguous approach would be welcomed.
On a more positive note, Brody turns in an impressive, nuanced display, albeit not one that is matched from his co-stars (not including a more than sufficient turn by Sam Neil, playing Peter’s boss, Duncan Stewart). Yet, any good work is undermined with an overtly dramatic finale. A little too much happens, and this title works best when feeling like a study of this one man’s fragile state of mind. Instead, it becomes less and less intimate as we progress towards the latter stages, and it’s much to the film’s detriment.