To the rest of the world, Australia has hardly been a hotbed of great cinema over the years. Due to geographical limitations many cinematic triumphs did not make the leap out of the country and get the opportunity to garner the widespread acclaim that some deserved, but the industry continued unperturbed. During the Seventies and Eighties Australia, like the United States, experienced a huge boom in exploitation cinema which, thanks to director Mark Hartley, we now know by the portmanteau Ozploitation and which had much in common with the films being made by their American cousins at the time. Notable examples like ‘Mad Max’, the recently re-released ‘Wake in Fright’, and ‘Long Weekend’ all have the same low-budget roots, same graphic sex and violence but, as the US experienced an explosion of the slasher, the genre movies from Oz were an entirely different animal. Often stripped back, small in scale but grand in scope, horror movies portrayed a brutal land populated by hard people and a peculiarly nihilistic world view. As the Eighties drew to a close however, and exploitation flicks were replaced in the public taste, horror went underground; whilst internationally the genre enjoyed a post-‘Scream’ revival and a surge of increasingly confusing Asian movies, all was quiet in Australia. At the turn of this century however, antipodean horror exploded once again, this time on a global scale, and it continues to produce some of the more entertaining and brutal genre pieces to date – ‘Wolf Creek’ in 2005, the excellent but largely unseen ‘Rogue’ and ‘Storm Warning’ in 2007, the lo-fi ‘Dying Breed’ in 2008, the brilliant ‘The Loved Ones’ and ‘100 Bloody Acres’ more recently. Mark Hartley, whose documentary ‘Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!’ opened up the world to Ozploitation movies returns here with a remake of one of the originals – Richard Franklin’s ‘Patrick’ from 1978.
Having extracted herself from a failing relationship and desperate to start a new life, young nurse Kathy Jacquard takes up a post at an isolated clinic caring for coma patients. Finding herself becoming increasingly fascinated by Patrick, a young man whose physical condition has not deteriorated throughout his catatonia, she is appalled at the experiments to which he is subjected at the hands of Doctor Roget and his daughter Matron Cassidy. When Kathy makes contact with Patrick via the computer in his room, she becomes determined to help save him from the cruelty of the other medical staff but, when her lover finally tracks her down, she begins to realise that Patrick may not be as helpless as he first appears and that he may have more designs on her than she could ever have realised.
‘Patrick’ is an interesting movie. From a script perspective, there is much to enjoy; most of the characters are well fleshed out and developed – if a tad predictable. Whilst films of this kind are unlikely to win awards for the quality of their writing, scribe Justin King does a good job here of both creating dialogue that is sparky and fun and of keeping events rattling along at a decent pace. There are plot holes here and there – it is never made clear how exactly Patrick develops his talent for example – but they are issues inherent with the source material and are, ergo, forgivable. The script’s only real weakness is in central character and final girl Kathy Jacquard who is so meek and submissive in the opening acts that she becomes almost irritatingly dull. In the final act, when realisation sets in, it is a big relief to see her roll up her sleeves and get after Patrick, and it feels well-earned when she does. Real credit must go to King for creating a script that, whilst faithful to an original that was well liked, makes its own way within those parameters. I suspect that many loyal genre fans may not have seen the Seventies version anyway so many of the twists and turns will be fresh and new, even if some are lifted wholesale from the original. On topic, the biggest spoiler for the unaware is in the title itself. In some territories it retains the title ‘Patrick’ whereas in others it is extended to ‘Patrick: Evil Awakens’; here in the UK it will simply be ‘Evil Awakens’, a curious decision to reveal this given that at least half of the film’s plot involves the central mystery of what exactly is going on. This is becoming depressingly common on these shores however, with decisions being made to change the titles of movies for release. Personally, the logic escapes me; many genre fans track the progress of movies from other countries and by changing the title for UK release it becomes very difficult to track them down. Additionally, many replacement titles are vastly inferior to the original ones – recent examples include the conversion of the crazy ‘Bloody Bloody Bible Camp’ to the infinitely drab ‘Sin’, and the marvellous ‘Jug Face’ to the nondescript ‘The Pit’.
One of the biggest strengths of ‘Patrick’ is its stellar cast. Sharni Vinson, fresh from a star-making performance as Erin in Adam Wingard’s excellent ‘You’re Next’, plays lead character Kathy Jacquard. It is a role of two parts and whilst she is infuriatingly mild in the movie’s opening movements, she quickly returns to familiar strong-willed territory and is utterly convincing even during the film’s CGI-heavy supernatural moments. The supporting cast are fleshed out by Charles Dance, on top scenery-chewing form, as sinister Doctor Roget and Jackson Gallagher as Patrick, a role requiring him to do very little and convey much; Rachel Griffiths gives a wonderfully bizarre performance as Matron Cassidy, all pent up aggression and weird devotion, Peta Sergeant is entertainingly spunky and appealing as Kathy’s chatterbox colleague Paula, and solid support is provided by Damon Gameau and Martin Crewes as Kathy’s competing suitors.
Director Mark Hartley is a well-known and respected documentarian and ‘Patrick’ represents his first foray into genre filmmaking and, on evidence herein, he could have a future in horror if he so chooses. He clearly has a love for the subject matter and creates a world almost outside of time; its setting is clearly modern – Patrick has internet access – but from the costumes to the astonishing setting, it screams period piece; weirdly, it has much in common with Mel Brooks’ spoof ‘High Anxiety’ in this regard. The film is well shot too, with his camera frequently swooping, panning and framing from unusual angles, giving the audience a tangible sense of the movie’s gothic roots. From a special effects standpoint, ‘Patrick’ is a very mixed bag as is common with movies that rely almost completely on computer generated effects. Some are excellent, some are not but even at their worst they do feel in keeping with the homegrown, indie nature of the piece. The sound design is great though, and the movie is further enhanced further by a swirling and atmospheric orchestral score.
As a remake of an older, respected, original ‘Patrick’ is an impressive work. At a time when the majority of remakes are simply soulless cash-ins, designed by committee, and packed with ugly product placement, lavatorial colour palettes, and violence without emotion, it is genuinely heart-warming to see a filmmaker who not only loves, but understands, the original. Seventies ‘Patrick’ , despite failing to live up to a powerful curtain-raising act and having characters who makes odd decisions even by genre movie standards, is a solid little movie. What the remake does is keep everything that was good about it, improve on the script and effects, stuff it with a very strong cast, and update it for a modern audience. If the industry must insist on remaking older films, this is how it should be done – with respect, with love, and by people who understand their craft. ‘Patrick: Evil Awakens’ stands up as a great little movie on its own too; it is funny, creepy and downright fun, and you could do a lot worse than check it out when it hits the UK in August. Recommended.
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