Patrick (Jackson Gallagher) lays deep in a coma in a small private hospital, his only action being his involuntary spitting. When Nurse Jacquard (Sharni Vinson), who has just separated from her husband, begins work at the hospital, she senses that Patrick is communicating with her, and he seems to be using his psychic powers to manipulate events in her life, with chilling effect.
MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Richard Franklin’s Patrick (upon which director Mark Hartley’s supernatural-thriller is based) was a minor hit back in 1978 before it found favour as a cult item with the retro crowd (largely thanks to some typically loud love from one Quentin Tarantino). The story of the comatose psycho and the nurse with whom he connects, clearly impacted Hartley, whose own documentary Not Quite Hollywood lauded the Oz-ploitation era that birthed the late Franklin’s seminal (if slightly overpraised) work.
Hartley’s encyclopaedic knowledge of Oz genre filmmaking is evident in his creative decision-making. Knowingly, he melds the grand, Hammer Horror-inspired aesthetic that was typical of the period’s local chillers (Inn of the Damned, 1975; Next of Kin, 1982) with some very contemporary flourishes. The result is a vision that is a bit oil-&-water at times. There is a nagging sense that his main aim was to craft a loving homage (which he mostly does) but that he has had his arm twisted to include some nudge-nudge humour and post-modern horror touches to pander to the multiplex crowd. The result is an uneven, not particularly scary narrative that nevertheless rewards in its loving embrace of camp excess and well-staged nastiness.
Working from debutant Justin King’s script, Hartley plunges us into the hoary old 'Gothic mansion’ psychiatric hospital setting. Overseen by icy chief doctor Roget (an up-for-anything Charles Dance) and his creepy head nurse Matron Cassidy (Rachel Griffiths), the nightmarish sanatorium is the new work place for pretty Nurse Jacquard (Sharni Vinson, double-timing at MIFF with her home-invasion thriller You’re Next) who, along with her offsider Nurse Williams (Peta Sargeant, laboured with some of the film’s most cringing dialogue), tends to the handful of unresponsive, bed-bound patients.
The most enigmatic of the infirmed is well-coiffed hottie Patrick (Jackson Gallagher), a patient with a reputation amongst the staff for his stubborn personality and unpleasant habit of spitting – the only outward physicality he displays. Soon, he is taking an obvious (in one smutty but fun scene, a very obvious) shine to Vinson’s character (who’s also not averse to bucking the system), and will stop at nothing to get her attention. This includes telepathically accessing her social media accounts, getting in the head of her boyfriend Ed (Damon Gameau) and reeking telepathic havoc upon the staff and patients ('He made me do it," utters Roget, in what one hopes doesn’t become the line that Charles Dance is remembered for"¦though it very well might be).
Hartley introduced his film’s World Premiere at the Melbourne Film Festival by imploring the audience to bring a sense of fun to the screening because that’s how it was made. And that is sage advice; Patrick 2013 is a giddy, daft Midnight Movie guilty pleasure of a film that is perfectly enjoyable on those terms. It is not unreasonable to expect a debut narrative feature from one so versed in the Ozploitation oeuvre to have offered a little more, but Hartley nails the mood of that slightly off-kilter period in Australian film history even if he doesn’t add much to it.