Besides turning up in a Wes Anderson production every now and then, Adrien Brody has been something of a ghost to mainstream moviegoers. I promise he’s still acting, just in movies that have struggled to find wider audiences. You know, like Dragon Blade or American Heist? *crickets* The quasi blockbuster hunk of yesteryear seems to be toying with indie experimentation as of late, picking Michael Petroni’s Backtrack as his latest attempt at underground success. Will this be the Adrien Brody vessel that floats to the top instead of sinking to a dark, watery grave? No, it won’t – but that’s not necessarily the actor’s fault.
The once Predator huntin’ Brody stars as Peter Bower, a psychiatrist who’s struggling to cope with his daughter Evie’s (Emma O’Farrell) unexpected death. Clientele come and go, but all Bower can do is replay the same gruesome scene on repeat, like a form of self-torture. But when ghosts from his past decide to pay him a visit (literally), the shrink decides it might be time to address his own demons.
Returning home, Bower seeks comfort and understanding by reconnecting with a dark secret he’d kept hidden for years, which just might hold the key to explaining his supernatural pursuers. Unfortunately for Bower though, his memories don’t seem to align with reality, which leads him down a rabbit hole of dangerous rediscovery.
As stated, Brody phones nothing in. Not in the least. Given the nervous, grief-stricken nature his character calls for, Peter Bower drags himself through this supernatural detective story with ample amounts of humility and anguish. Brody submerges himself in muscular devastation that puts forward a convincing facade of strength, then crumbles into a pool of sorrowful tears once Bower can safely embrace Death’s cruel decision.
Alas, when life can’t seem to get any worse, a host of apparitions introduce themselves into Bower’s life, causing Brody’s demeanor to jump between horror, curiosity, and a nagging, inescapable sadness. This is a perfectly apt role for the stone-faced actor, pushing faults of a more doldrum watch onto other weaker factors.
While Brody builds a substantial presence, his on-screen counterparts offer no support in shouldering the film’s weight. Sam Neill comes and goes in a criminal bout of under-usage, while Robin McLeavy, who plays Bower’s equally distraught wife, is a useless non-factor. The film so heavily focuses on Peter Bower, that all other souls are mostly forgotten, be them living or deceased. Not even the Sixth Sense-type ghosts find any intriguing mystification about their floating antics, despite sneaking a few mundane, yet decent-ish creeps into Bower’s life. Backtrack relies solely on Adrien Brody, which is an unfair task to demand from a man in need of tense chemistry to fuel increasingly dangerous interactions. One cannot carry a conversation for two (very well, that is).
Diving deeper into Bower’s selective memory, Michael Petroni attempts to leverage a wide-scale disaster against murder most foul. Red herrings splash about, and surprises are kept hidden, but that doesn’t distract from a polite, by-the-numbers watch. The purgatory realm that hosts both Evie and Bower’s undead posse lacks explanation, motivations remain muffled, and Bower’s own torment runs a gamut of expect horror tropes (cameo by Goosebump‘s Invisible Boy?). Mix that with a “problematic” CGI trainwreck, and dark, yet provocative cinematography, and you’ve got yourself another bare-bones haunter worth a Netflix watch at best. If you’re ever-so curious.
Backtrack is an overly-streamlined story that doesn’t reach far with ambitious intent, despite larger setups and secrets abound. There’s a base-level assessment of dealing with grief, and how loved ones cope, but emotions aren’t the key fixture here.
Backtrack focuses solely on an unsolved mystery, which simply just plays out on screen. Nothing hooks you in, or teases your senses – this is a straight narrative about solving a more obvious conundrum than Petroni lets on. You’ll be curious, no doubt, but never captivated or excited. It’s just a shame that “good enough” simply doesn’t cut it this time.
Backtrack is a by-the-numbers thriller in every sense, which simply can't hack it despite a strong turn from Adrien Brody.