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Does penis violence make you queasy?  And I don’t mean violence committed by penises, but violence committed against them.  Punches, drill bits spinning Candiru-style up the urethra, or tri-hooked fishing lures pierced through a guy’s dongle then yanked… if so, then you just may want to skip the new Australian film, The Horseman.

Still with me?  On with the review…

The Horseman opens with an exterminator named Christian (Peter Marshall) visiting a house and brutally beating the owner into submission.  He takes a crowbar to the man’s home with equal enthusiasm, and it’s revealed this may have something to with a porn tape, an overdose, and Christian’s dead daughter.  He moves forward from there, finding and eliminating the men he feels are responsible for his daughter’s death, and each step seems to eradicate his humanity more and more.  The only light in his life shines from within a young hitchhiker named Alice (Caroline Marohasy) he picks up along his journey.  She’s a stand-in for his daughter in many ways, but his attempts to do right this time come into conflict with the swathe of revenge he’s cutting throughout Australia.  The results are bleak, bloody, and ultimately depressing.

Character development is almost non-existent in The Horseman in favor of a focus on scenes of pure emotion…  although most of that emotional display comes in the form of brutal and gritty violence.  And that action is the film’s biggest strength.  Fights aren’t stylistic or beautiful like the combat in Ong Bak 2… in fact they feel almost unrehearsed and lacking choreography at times.  They’re savage brawls fueled by rage and survival and can be extremely painful (albeit exhilarating) to watch.

The Horseman‘s other strength is Marshall’s performance.  We get glimpses of the man before his world collapses, and while more scenes like that would have made for a better film, Marshall makes the most of the situation.  Loss and sadness briefly pour from his weathered face before he once again comes face to face with another one of the bad guys.  His rage is evident and tangible and they fuel his actions throughout the many fights for his life.  If he seems almost super-human at times, and he does, it’s almost acceptable in the context of his (and the film’s) singular desire… revenge at all costs.  By the end of the movie the price is revealed to be fairly hefty indeed.

Director/writer Steven Kastrissios spoke after the SXSW screening and acknowledged the original cut was 2 1/2 hours long.  That’s a full hour longer than the film as it stands now, and Kastrissios admits the missing scenes focused exclusively on character growth and exposition.  This type of film may not need an extraordinary amount of talk or explanatory dialogue, but something more seems necessary.  Opening the film with a brutal beat down may immediately grab an audience interested purely in bloodshed, but it makes it difficult to go back and show the transformation from normal man to vengeance-fueled madman.

The Horseman is a strong entrant into the revenge genre, but it’s almost exclusive focus on the violence and brutality leaves no room for character exploration and depth.  It works as a purely visceral experience only.  Several scenes are heavy with tension before during and after eruptions of violence, but the absence of any substantial back story or history means we don’t necessarily feel the loss that fuels him.  That said, you’ll definitely feel the fish hooks through the scrotum…

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