There is a scene in Leon where the titular hitman explains to his protégé that the rifle is the first weapon you learn because it allows you to keep your distance from the 'client' and you progress so that the last weapon to master is the knife.
Being a bereaved father rather than an assassin, Christian, doesn't bother with formalities but uses his anger, detective skills and a toolbox to work his way through the men involved in the low budget porn movie in which his drugged daughter lost her life before being disposed of.
The Horseman is Steven Kastrissios' feature film debut where, as well as directing, he wrote the story, produced and edited. Developed from a low budget short, he wanted to make it into a full length film but didn't want it to look like a complete amateur effort with him and two mates doing everything with a group of first time actors. Upping the budget to a still low AU$80,000, he was able to employ a reasonably experienced actor and people who knew what they were doing with camerawork, lighting and the more technical side of lugging electronic equipment around.
This is a brute of a revenge movie with plenty of face bashing, knee crunching and even a blowtorch being applied to someone's chest. Throw in a torture scene where Christian tries to extract information from someone he holds responsible by attaching fishhooks to his genitals and tugging on the line and you know that this is going to be nasty, vicious and bloody.
It doesn't fall into the moralistic trap of other revenge movies by showing the anti-hero as some alternative to the police as all you know is that Christian's daughter died when she choked on her own vomit and the autopsy found traces of marijuana, cocaine and heroin in her system and semen from four men. We don't know what the police did or didn't do so this is a stripped down film in which a grieving father receives a tape of his late daughter in a porno and decides to track down the men involved to see who supplied her with the fatal drugs.
Peter Marshall's Christian is an oddly believable character as he isn't a member of the police force or a former special forces commando - just an ordinary exterminator after bigger pests.
Working on a tiny budget and doing more than most directors (other members of the crew also doubled up or worked for free, such as producer Rebecca Dakin who also did the catering), Steven Kastrissios has written a reasonably compelling story which he directed well with plenty of violence and blood. The Horseman isn't the most accomplished or thought provoking you will ever see but it does exactly what it sets out to deliver.
Aside from a few deleted scenes, the only extra was is a 36 minute Making Of which covers the shooting process well as well as looking back to where the project started, getting it off the ground, casting and the SFX makeup. This is well worth a watch and shows you what a fledgling director has to go through to make his first feature.
Shot on the (then) top of the range Panasonic P2 digital cameras, The Horseman looks better than some digital films I have seen and, in many scenes, would be pushed to tell the difference between this and celluloid. The black levels are consistent and dark, the colours bright (not that there are many, just the blood!) and the tone and palette don't fluctuate as in so many digital films.
The fight scenes are well choreographed and convey the level of brutality and pain very well. Some might find them a little too frenetically shot, but I liked the camera getting involved and occasionally leaving you unsure as to who is who.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is pretty punchy and clear when it comes to presenting the dialogue. The Foley work is excellent, particularly in the combat and torture scenes which can have you wincing a bit! The score is a bit hit and miss with parts being a bit too loud and overwhelming where as others work very well in conveying and emphasising mood and tension.
If you want a violent revenge movie that doesn't demand too much of you or attempt to claim the system and society is flawed and vigilante justice is the way to go then this is the film for you. There is no political or sociological subtext - just a man hunting down those he holds responsible for his daughter's death and doing it in a particularly violent way.
I enjoyed it for what it was and liked that it had no pretensions of more serious social commentary.