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January’s Film in Discussion: The Horseman (2008)

February 1, 2011

For January’s film, The Hunter College Film Blog has chosen Steven Kastrissios’ revenge thriller, The Horseman. Here’s is what a few of us have to say:

FredFMR: The Horseman is an emotional story of a father named Christian (Peter Marshall) whose daughter named Jessie was raped and later murdered. One day, he receives a mysterious videotape featuring his daughter being sexually and physically abused while under the influence of narcotics. When Christian learns that the tape is being sold to the public, he decides to hunt down every person involved with the video. As he takes a path of violence and destruction against those who harmed his daughter, Christian meets a young pregnant girl named Alice (Caroline Marohasy), who reminds him of his late daughter. Alice has no idea what Christian has been doing, but eventually gets caught up in the drama and horror as the truth begins to unfold.

The Horseman is a great revenge thriller that’s not over-the-top with its brutality and allows the humanistic side of the story to take precedence over the revenge tactics Christian uses on his daughter’s murderers, as well as vice-versa. It’s gritty and doesn’t hold back, but it never uses the violence in a way that overshadows the story of a heartbroken father who, naturally, decides to have vengeance on those who harmed his only daughter.

Fmtransmission: After watching The Horseman, I was very pleased with the brutality. The film cannot be criticized for its violence when this is, first and foremost, a revenge story. A revenge story is not pretty or shouldn’t be subtle, it should blaspheme and get bloody satisfaction!

FredFMR: The Horseman is helped by having a fantastic script that displays great character development. I’m not a father, but I would understand deeply if a father would want to hurt those who hurt his children. To be honest, a lot of revenge films use that premise and have the main character use violence as a way to tell his story, instead of allowing some time to really get into the character’s head and allow the audience to truly understand the character’s motives. The Horseman, for a 100 minute film, moves slowly to do just that. And the arc with Alice is great as well. It’s understandable that he sees her as a way to make up for things he couldn’t do for his daughter. Their relationship isn’t the main focus of the film, but we see enough of their relationship to like both characters and hope they both get what they’re looking for (for him revenge; for her a family).

Fmtransmission: I really did understand his need to satisfy his rage and I also saw the compassion inside him with the young teen that he picked up. However, the father is supposedly bent on revenge, and at times it just seemed maniacal, as a psychopath would do it, and not the way a mentally broken father would, but perhaps they’re one in the same, right? Ha.

FredFMR: For those interested in revenge thrillers, the violence is a huge selling point. The Horseman is a brutal film to watch, but oddly, it’s not graphic at all. Sure there’s blood and we sees limbs being moved into positions that they shouldn’t be moved into. But it’s not like Saw or Hostel, where we see intestines and organs oozing all over the place to satisfy the lust of gorehounds. Most of the violence is shot off-screen, where our imaginations are left to run wild into seeing what may be going on. The genital scenes, in particular, made me cringe and there was nothing graphic being shown. Just the idea what may have been going on is bad enough. And that’s why The Horseman works well.

Fmtransmission: I do think the brutality is done very skillfully. It is not grotesque in any way, at least in my opinion. In fact, I think it is the editing that is done really well, to lead you to believe that this violence is over the top.

The climax of the film certainly took a turn that I didn’t expect. It was fast paced, fast cuts, and fun. A few times, in the end, however, I thought the director chose to draw out the suspense more than he should have. As if he chose to toy with the audience, but we, the audience, fully expect him to satisfy our anxieties of a surviving hero, and he does. A little bit too typical.

FredFMR: I didn’t mind the ending all that much. It’s obvious who’ll live and who’ll survive. I do agree about some of the final violent sequences taking a bit too long to get to the next scene. I understand Steven Kastrissios was trying to create tension by drawing these scenes out. But maybe they dragged about two or three minutes too long.

And I loved how the beginning started off slow while the ending was very quick paced with some great editing and well directed action sequences. And I didn’t see the turn coming for one of the characters either. I think Steven Kastrissios brought the visuals together really well and told an excellent story.

Fmtransmission: The music at times felt contradictory to its plot. I thought it was daring to choose a soundtrack with ethereal melodies and subtle strumming of the guitar, however, it left me altogether perplexed. Typically you would not expect this sort of score for this sort of film. It was out of its element, really, not something fitting or complimentary for the nature of a dark thriller. The score progressed into something better by the climax of the film.

FredFMR: I didn’t really have an issue with the score. My biggest pet peeve, maybe I’m the only one, concerned Jessie. I would have liked to have learned about her relationship with Christian and what led her down a path of drugs and sex. Christian seemed like a concerned and loving father. He had fond memories of his daughter. So what drove them apart? It doesn’t break the film for me, but I do feel that having this knowledge would have intensified Christian’s act of vengeance for me.

Overall, The Horseman is a great gritty independent thriller that deserves a lot of attention. Fans of Death Wish, Death Sentence, The Last House on the Left, The Brave One, and all those other genre favorites should definitely check this film out. It’s on Netflix Instant Watch, so you Netflix subscribers have no excuse! It’s 1/4 thriller, 1/4 action, 1/4 drama, 1/4 horror, and all around excellent. It’s well worth your time.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. carlos permalink
    February 1, 2011 10:59 am

    now this is my kind of movie! Even though it’s a revenge movie, the Alice character makes it a redemption story as well. I was wondering too though about Jessie and her relationship with Christian and where things had gone wrong. But I was pulled in by the fighting sequences, the ruthless attitude of those porno villains, the torture scenes. The fact Christian was hurting himself told me he was going to do whatever it took to hurt those guys just as much and more. The physical and emotional pain comes through really well and I think it’s cause Peter Marshall did a great job. A lot of raw emotion in those torture/questioning scenes. Some of his reactions/facial expressions just seemed natural.

    • February 2, 2011 1:19 am

      That part with the air pump in the penis was too much for me. I was in fetal position in my chair.

      • fredfmr permalink
        February 6, 2011 7:16 pm

        Which was worse, D? The pump or the tiny fish hooks? I still can’t decide.

      • February 6, 2011 11:00 pm

        @Fred: The pump definitely. Ichi, the Killer has immunized me from fish hooks.

  2. February 1, 2011 1:43 am

    I agree with both of your comments. The brutality was certainly present but present in your mind. It was never shown on screen which was great. The director skillfully manipulates the audiences’ emotions with clever editing and sound cues. However, my favorite part about Horseman was definitely the moral degradation of the father character. In the beginning, we assume that he is just a Liam Neeson rip-off from the film, Taken. However, as the story progresses, the father who also gains more information about his daughter realizes that his sweet little girl wasn’t all that sweet. Although coerced into the porno video, the film questions her decisions that lead up to that point. The father unable to bear the truth continues his rampage and even beats a witness who is completely willing to help him. We see that the father has crossed the boundary from vengeance to a down right psychopath. Although I found myself squirming in my chair and wincing at the apparent grotesqueness of the violence, I still managed to enjoy the film a great deal.

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