People knock M. Night Shyamalan for not being able to replicate the artistic success of his supernatural chiller The Sixth Sense, but he should be getting kudos for continuing to inspire brooding, twisty, half-assed imitations a decade and a half later.
In Backtrack, writer and second-time director Michael Petroni’s glossily shot yet soullessly schematic Australian mystery, emotionally fragile psychiatrist Peter Bower (Adrien Brody) discovers he sees dead people, including his mentoring shrink (Sam Neill) and a hooded little girl who must’ve escaped from Don’t Look Now.
But don’t fret now; that’s a first-act reveal, and Peter’s ghostly curse is just a hokey catalyst to guide his guilt-ridden character back to his hometown. Suffering from the recent death of his own daughter, Peter finds his mopey intensity exacerbated by repressed memories of a tragic train accident (repeated in by-the-numbers flashbacks) that lead to one final traumatic secret that’s grossly cynical. Between the generic shadowy cinematography and a gothic score that manages to telegraph even the film’s jump-scares, there’s no tangible tension by which to build an effective climax.
Reality is thrown out the window the moment Petroni tips his specter-haunted hand, so it’s also hard to believe in or care about Peter’s unraveling sanity, even when Brody’s melancholic performance offers more than this rehash deserves.
Directed by Michael Petroni
Opens February 26, Cinema Village