For my first entry to what we hope to be a massive, on-going series, I’ve chosen the 2008 Aussie revenge flick “The Horseman”. One could argue whether or not this film deserves to be grouped with some of the classic films from the land of Oz that we’re covering, but in my personal opinion, it’s exploitative enough of a film to earn it’s self a spot in the series. The revenge film, after all, is sprinkled all throughout the various exploitation genres. I have no clue why I put off watching this film for so long. I heard all of the buzz beforehand, and I guess I just didn’t want to be disappointed. This series gave me an excuse to finally take the plunge, and oh how glad I am that I did.
The revenge film, and exploitation have a long standing relationship. Many exploitation films are based around the core component of revenge. Horror films, action films, thrillers, there are many ways one could go with this basic plot device. Piss someone off enough, whether it be murdering a loved one, or a giant creature terrorizing their town, and a human will go to great lengths to exact their revenge. The most famous films in this category are generally rape revenge, but almost as prevalent are the Charles Bronson types, pissed at the world for doing them wrong, and out for blood to try and ease their pain. Much of my horror brethren harbor daily fantasies of surviving in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. While that idea does wet my whistle, I’ve always fantasized about going on a cross country quest for vengeance. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve not had anything horrible enough happen to me that would trigger this action, I would just like to think that my response to such an event would be similar to what’s found in films of this type.
“The Horseman” follows Christian, a divorced father that has just lost his only daughter to a drug overdose. A video cassette surfaces that features his daughter in a drug induced porn session. When Christian learns that his daughter was found face up, and suffocated on her own vomit, and that someone called 911 anonymously, he puts two and two together and comes to the conclusion that she was drugged by someone involved in the filming of the porn, and left to die. Starting with the distributor, Christian uses brutal, third-world interrogation tactics to track down all of those he feels are responsible for his daughter’s death. Christian also develops a close relationship with a teenage hitchhiker, that’s soon put in danger by his plot for revenge.
The word brutal is tossed around too liberally when it comes to on-screen violence. Many people refer to the over-the-top gore of the “Saw” franchise as brutal. The truth of the matter is, the violence in those films is so cartoonish that it diminishes it’s intended effect. Because of that, when someone tells me that a film is brutal, it tends to put me off a bit. Make no mistake, the violence in “The Horseman” is brutal, but it’s brutal in a sense that it’s depicted in a realistic way that causes the audience to cringe. Much is left to the imagination, opting not to exploit gore for the sake of gore. Make no mistake, this film is in no way watered down. It gets wet when it needs to, but it leaves much of the more invasive actions up to the viewers own demented imagination.
The relationship that develops between Christian, and his teenage passenger is both believable, and at times heartbreaking. Though it’s never boorishly tossed in the viewers face that he can sense some of the same qualities that existed in his daughter in young Alice, it’s portrayed in a manner that evokes an emotional response from the audience. Christian employs almost as much energy keeping Alice safe, as he does avenging the death of his daughter. It’s made very clear that when put to the test, Christian is more than willing to sacrifice himself to keep Alice out of harms way. Perhaps he feels that if he can save her, he can, absolve his self of whatever guilt he feels for the death of his daughter.
When watching a film like this, especially if you have a family of your own, you can’t help but wonder what you would do in the same situation. I’ve read some other reactions, where people say that his daughter met her demise because of the choices she made in her life. While that is true, it’s also easy to see that she was exploited, and left for dead by somebody who could have very easily prevented her death. Was she a drug addict? Sure she was. But as Christian is going down the list of culprits, he also learns that she still had somewhat of a loose grasp on her moral compass, and tried to exit the situation when it became clear that she was about to participate in something that she was not comfortable with. As a parent, I feel that Christian’s actions were justified. Yes, he operated outside of the law, and dealt out his own brand of vigilante justice, but when you lose the only thing in life that you care about, and harbor the feeling that nothing can be done about it within the confines of legislation, sometimes you have to handle things on your own.