Christian, a divorced father and white collar businessman, grieves over the complicated death of his daughter. When a video arrives anonymously in the mail, featuring his daughter heavily intoxicated and mistreated, Christian sets out on a reckless journey to find answers. Fuelled by rage and sorrow, the death toll quickly rises as he uncovers an ugly truth. Along the way he meets Alice, a young runaway not unlike his daughter and a fragile friendship begins to unfold.
Steve Kastrissios’s debut feature is a vengeful morality play about a father’s pernicious crusade against the smutty underworld that claimed the life of his daughter.
The Horseman opens with a gruesome display of raw violence in which a man is pummelled and set alight; the reasons for his death later revealed through flashback and shortcut exposition. The aggressor is a grieving father, and his victim was a key player in the porn film racket, and one of the last people to see his daughter alive. The film’s repetitive cycle of violence is such that a good many scenes of The Horseman can be described thus, albeit with different methods of torture.
Pest controller Christian (Peter Marshall) is a reserved everyman broken by grief at the degradation of his child, who makes the extraordinary leap to serial killing by channelling his loss into violent retribution. Tipped off by a random porn tape in the mail (curiously, the digital revolution hasn’t taken hold in this professional porn operation), Christian witnesses his daughter’s drug-addled demise and, being in the business of extermination, uses the tools of his trade to dispense with film’s distributor, its cockney director, and each of its on-screen accomplices.
Wrecked by competing grief and disgust (under duress, his victims insist that his daughter was a willing participant in the debauchery), he retrieves his daughter’s ashes from the rubbish bin to which he’d earlier discarded them, and carries her refuse-tainted remains on his bloody campaign.
The lengthy stretches of Queensland highway are broken up by pit stops to refuel and self-harm, and on one such pause, Christian takes a paternal shine to pregnant runaway, Alice (Caroline Mahorasy). Their conversations offer glimpses to his own failings as a father, which compound in his lack of forethought at the impact of their fledgling bond on the impressionable teen.
In helming what is ostensibly a straight revenge-genre nasty, first-timer Kastrissios maintains the menace in his depictions of his indefatigable anti-hero’s rising body count. He darts between eye-wincing detail and teasing suggestion to convey the dirty pugilism / mallet-to-face / fish-hook-to-penis carnage, with bucketfuls of blood splatter filling in the blanks.
From initial hesitation, Christian becomes a one-man killing machine in khaki King Gees. However, whilst early scenes accurately demonstrate the impulsiveness of an amateur assassin, some of the bigger set pieces betray choreography and err on the side of convention (e.g.: a mob of thugs disperses inexplicably, to await their individual comeuppance). Disappointingly, the plot resolution hangs on genre tropes of coincidence and impeccably-timed distraction.
Despite mining the same thematic territory as Paul Schrader’s Hardcore (with touches of Joel Schumacher’s Hardcore-wannabe, 8mm) The Horseman’s basic instincts and slimline story are more akin to Eli Roth’s Hostel and the interminable Saw franchise; rare moments of introspection by its central character do little to reconcile the film’s contradictory status as an 'anti-porno gorno’.