The Horseman | Action | rated R (A,V,G) | 2:00 hrs
When we first meet Christian (Peter Marshall), he shows up at the house of a client dressed as an exterminator, in cover-alls with his name on the breast. In the next scene he’s beating a man bloody, rooting around through video tapes and then using the insecticide to set the place a blaze. Upon getting the news of his daughter’s death and receiving an anonymous video tape of a pornographic film she was last seen in, Christian is now on a brutal rampage to track down everyone who may have been involved with the production of the film, with each coerced interrogation piecing together his daughter’s final moments.
The Austrian import The Horseman is brutal in ways that have nothing to do with blood and gore. It’s a dive into the deep end of sleaze and nakedly emotional agony. It submerges the viewer in scene after scene of torture fueled by fatherly revenge. It is also extremely well shot. Best compared to Paul Greengrass’ work where the shaky camera effect is used as it should – to completely submerge the viewer in the visceral chaos of a fight. The fights in the film feel unchoreographed and real, where the two participants grapple around on the floor, on each other, desperately trying to get out of a hold or reach for an object to strangle the other. A tire iron, handcuffs, a garden hose, anything will do. This often abused style works perfectly for Horseman.
Now, I’m far from opposed to torture on film. Christian can go toe-to-toe with Jack Bauer for coersive interrogation techniques and because Christian’s villains are pornographers a lot of his methods involve genital mutilation, leaving most of the torture unseen in the R-rated edit. But that’s all Horseman is about. The movie never pushes itself forward, beyond the interrogations. Literally twice, Christian has someone tied to a chair and is in the process of torturing them when a friend comes up behind him and Christian has to beat the hell out of that guy before finishing off the other guy. He follows one frustrating name and lead after another to one person after another who screams in his face that he won’t give up that name. The action becomes repetitive, and the dramatic intensity, consistently off the scale, wears toward desensitizing before long. I want a little creativity with my brutality.
There is an inspired set piece in the third act where Christian finds himself in a chair on the other end of the torture. Writer/director Stephen Krassisios finds an entirely plausible way to give us hope for his escape without resorting to “movie-like” leaps in logic. It’s a nail-biting sequence.
There is serious talent here. Horseman is a well shot film, a visceral achievement. I appreciate that this is a revenge movie where the vigilante is more a regular guy than a martial-arts superman. But as a whole, with the entirely superficial religious overtones (The Horseman of death – or war) and pretentiously cyclical ending, the credits roll before it ever shifts out of first gear.