The Horseman (2008)

The Horseman is brutal, incredibly grim and genuinely horrible. It is a portrayal of a man’s descent into the darkest of places, and although it is deftly and expertly created it is also depressing and slightly unlikable. This is ideal for lovers of nihilistic horror and gorenography aficionados, but others may find it too horrific to bear.

Christian’s daughter is dead. Choking on her own vomit in an alleyway, her fragile body is discovered full of heroin, alcohol and semen. If this wasn’t bad enough, Christian is anonymously sent a videotape… of her having sex with three men. It’s a commercially available adult entertainment title, and shot on the evening she died. Haunted and horrified, Christian decides to track down those responsible for creating the movie; looking for answers, looking for reasons, looking for revenge.

The trouble with all “serious” revenge films is the lack of empathy we tend to feel towards our protagonist. It’s perhaps a cathartic thrill ride, but The Horseman doesn’t greatly have much sympathy for anyone and therefore we’re simply left watching it for an almost Saw-like sadistic love of sadism and the torturing of the morally corrupt. Only Dead Man’s Shoes had the amazing mix of seriousness and twisted humour without making it whimsical or ridiculous. The Horseman is mostly humourless, and only his relationship with runaway Alice really gives us more insight into his loving, more likeable side. We are never allowed to see him interacting with anyone before his daughter’s tragic death, and so all we know of Christian is this broken, barbaric shell of father.

He is a complex, harrowed man – at one point he pours his daughter’s ashes in a bin – and although Peter Marshall does a stunning job of making the character utterly believable, he is exceedingly hard to relate to. Christian is demented. Torturing information out of people has never been so horribly bizarre. The bicycle pump inserted into a penis is truly sick and wrong. What happened to pulling fingernails off with some rusty pliers? The Horseman’s all about the penis torture.

Like violence begets violence, in The Horseman horrible torture begets horrible torture. Christian tortures information out of people, which leads him closer and closer to the morally demented porn-makers responsible for killing his daughter, but this also leads him to the torture chair himself, where all manners of cyclical revenge begins to occur – nipple-rippage, face-crowbarring, blow-torching horribleness – it’s not “Payback” style gloriously sadistic, but real-world “use whatever’s lying around” style murderous torture. It is nauseating and eye-wateringly horrific.

Acting wise it is excellent throughout – all the performances feeling grittily real, which makes all of the violence so much more harrowing. Brad McMurray is especially stand-out as the utterly repugnant Derek, a character you genuinely despise – it is a stunning performance. It is these kind of characters that Christian must remove from his world. The sinners. He is the fourth Horseman and he rides a white van. His name is Christian, and he is Death – a one man judgment day.

Steven Kastrissios’ direction is also very good. The Horseman is grimily shot, necessarily dark and depressing throughout, almost like seeing the world through the eyes of Christian – a world suddenly devoid of colour and joy. Tragically Kastrissios has nothing else in the pipeline, but hopefully we’ll see a lot more from him in the future.

Shot non-linearly, it’s an interesting watch, and smartly done. For all it’s brutally and lack of likeability, it is a compelling and well crafted piece of work. The ending is excellent, and throws in a genuine sense of panic and terror, and this is the only real moment when you really, truly want Christian to succeed.

The Horseman is solidly acted and directed, and as a piece of quality film-making it gets top marks, but it is simply too horrible to be thoroughly enjoyed. Perhaps it isn’t supposed to be enjoyed, but endured, like Christian himself as he battles through the mourning process in the grimmest of ways. It is an excellent film, but it is incredibly dark. Those who like their horrors drowning in nihilism, violence and torture will adore The Horseman. For everyone else, it might be too horrific to endure.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

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