David Cronenberg is probably the best-known exponent of body horror, but first-time feature director Hartley – best known for the Ozploitation documentary Not Quite Hollywood – brings us body horror of a different kind in this classy remake of the 1978 Aussie shocker. Patrick (Gallagher) is a comatose patient at a private clinic somewhere on the Australian coast. When nurse Kathy Jacquard (Vinson) comes to work at the clinic, Patrick takes a bit of a shine to her.
There are far too many good films being remade badly these days (witness Total Recall, for starters), but what Hartley has done here is take a pretty ordinary film – albeit with a good central idea, executed poorly – and made a GREAT movie. It's a campy gothic horror that moves at a cracking pace and throws some knowing nods at a few horror cliches.
The Roget Clinic is a facility for comatose patient, run by neurologist Sebastian Roget (Dance) and the Nurse Ratched-like Matron Cassidy (Griffiths). Dance plays Roget as a slightly mad scientist who treats his patients with disdain and his staff with contempt. He's a Frankenstein figure, carrying out experiments on Patrick, but to what end?
Jacquard forms a relationship of sorts with the handsome, mostly immobile Patrick (an occasional muscle spasm sees him spit). She's appalled at the treatment she sees Roget dishing out, particularly the electroshick therapy, and is convinced that patyrick is not as braindead as he appears to be. She's right, of course. Patrick is telekinetic, and soon becomes obsessed with his kindly nurse.
The story is similar to the 1978 original, but Hartley cleverly keeps Patrick's telekinesis hidden for the first half of the film (the original exposed it almost from the start). He also cleverly blends modern technology – mobile phones and the internet form a big part of the plot – and the old, with all the medical equipment at the clinic appearing like something out of Victorian times. The clinic itself is all dimly lit and echoey corriors, with flickering lights and dark shadows adding to the creepy atmosphere. Also enhancing the atmosphere is the wonderful score from Pino Donaggio, which jangles the nerves and never lets up.
Dance and Griffiths are the big names here – both putting in great performances, and clearly having lots of fun – but centre stage is rising star Vinson. It's her third horror film on the trot after Bait 3D and the brilliant You're Next, and she's turning into something of an Aussie scream queen. She plays Jacquard as anything but a simpering victim – she's well used to dealign with problem men in her life, and she refuses to just stand back and take any shit from a man in a coma.
Hartley's Patrick is not subtle (and never dull, which the original sometims was), but it's a terrifically fun, darkly funny, full-on Hammer-style horror thriller that never lets up and never loses its way. Australian cinema doesn't have a wonderful track record with horror films. Here's hoping that Hartley can change that for the better.