REVIEW: Backtrack

“Nothing haunts us like the past” reads the tagline at the top of the poster, before my eyes are drawn downward to a decrepit railroad signal box with a ghostly girl at the base of its steps while a dark forest creeps in from behind.

There’s a saying that you eat with your eyes first, and I am inclined to agree. Presentation is a very important facet of life, and much like the cover of a book or an album, a movie poster can make or break interest in that movie, and needless to say, I was eating this right up.

Backtrack is a 2015 film starring Adrien Brody as Peter Bower, a psychologist who, after suffering the emotional devastation of losing his daughter, begins to unravel as guilt and once-distant memories of a past trauma bore their way into Peter’s present life. As he slowly unfolds the past, he finds that memories are vague things indeed.

Anyone who has seen a Brody flick knows that they’re in for a good time. And true to form, the Academy Award-winner takes his role seriously, and plays it convincingly. No, you aren’t watching Brody on the screen, instead you are watching Peter Bower, the character that he brings to life. The same can be said of Brody’s supporting cast as well, with talents such as Sam Neill and Robin McLeavy.

The cinematography is something that stood out to me as exciting, even on my first viewing. If you are paying attention, you’ll notice a multitude of things during the beginning that come to play a role later on.

What makes these moments so well done is that the movie doesn’t make it obvious. For example, if the camera opens on a man twitching his foot, it seems innocuous, unimportant, it isn’t until later that it hits you.

These shots in question are mirrored masterfully when it’s time for them to come back around, of course with greater importance, as obviously, at the end you will have knowledge that you didn’t have at the beginning.

None of these moments feel forced either; it all feels like a natural occurrence within the story, instead of the writer shoehorning them in.

Nothing is flawless, though, although I’ll say these “flaws” are more minor nitpicks than anything else.

Bemoaning a “horror/thriller,” it obviously relies on some of the same tried and true tropes we’ve seen countless times before, such as: a past traumatic event, creepy children, and consuming copious amounts of alcohol to cope with said trauma.

However, this movie uses these to its advantage instead of its detriment. While I did think, “Oh, I’ve seen that before” during my viewings, it did not drag my experience down at all since there’s a purpose behind them, a reason for them being there, as opposed to throwing them in for the sake of having them.

Another small nitpick I have is that a few scenes that are meant to be serious and suspenseful are unintentionally cheesy, which makes them funny. (At least to me, so your mileage may vary on that one.)

Now, an actual criticism I have is that one character really has no purpose in the movie. The character in question being Peter’s wife, Carol, played by Jenni Baird. If someone edited her out of the movie, nothing would really change.

I’m not saying that every character needs to have an arc and show development and display personality and what not, but I will say that every character should have a purpose. If a character has no purpose within a story, then they should not be in said story. Same spiel with the tropes I mentioned, they need a purpose. An abundance of purposeless tropes does not a good story make.

Final Rating: A-

Despite the misuse of a character, and a handful of scenes that may have you chuckling as opposed to clenching your teeth in suspense, Backtrack overshadows these few weaknesses with an engaging story. It isfurthered by exciting cinematography and Brody’s stellar acting to create a good, if not great, experience.