Here's a quick question: say you're a dad who's out to annihilate the human filth who dosed your daughter with heroin, videotaped her drugged-up and incoherent self being gang-banged by multiple creeps for commercial sale and then dumped her used-up body, and you have one of the offending scum tied nude to a chair with no possibility of him getting away. You need to know where the rest of her rapist/murderers are and he has that information. His genitals are right there, hanging like an uncooked piece of pork, and you have on hand an assortment of deep sea fishing hooks. What would you do?
Writer/producer/director Steven Kastrissios' THE HORSEMAN (as in "of the Apocalypse;" I'm guessing, because the title is not explained in the film) is a welcome and extremely savage throwback to the old school revenge exploitation genre, similar in some respects to TAKEN (also from 2008), only minus the utterly implacable martial skills of Liam Neeson's secret agent or whatever the hell he was, but with elements of the currently popular "torture porn" genre (best exemplified by HOSTEL) thrown in for sadistic measure.
The protagonist of THE HORSEMAN is a grief-and-vengeance-driven father named Christian (Peter Marshall) who works as a pest control professional and quite literally embarks on a mission to take out the two-legged, sentient vermin who did serious wrong to his daughter, a situation he's made aware of when the cops find her body, which contained heroin in her system, along with amounts of semen. As if that information were not enough to send any parent into a state akin to that of a Fury straight out of Greek mythology, Christian receives an anonymous package containing a copy of "Young City Sluts 2," the porno that graphically depicts what happened to his kid, and it is that piece in the puzzle that sends him down a trail of ultra-brutal retribution as he kills his way down the line of distributors, producer, director, actors and anyone else associated with his daughter's sleazy and degrading death. As Christian travels the desolate highways of Queensland in search of his prey, he encounters a young runaway named Alice (Caroline Marohasy) who has troubles of her own, and the two form a charming bond along the way. But that ray of sunshine in their lives is overshadowed by Christian's horrific quest, so no matter how it all turns out, you just know it ain't gonna be pretty for anyone involved.
Every aspect of the film is the best that it can be and I've always felt the Australians have a knack for making exceptional exploitation films — MAD MAX, anyone? — and THE HORSEMAN totally delivers on its very visceral promises. The fights are very realistic, giving us an ordinary man pushed past the brink of savagery who possesses no action movie-style highly-trained fighting abilities but wields a knife, a crowbar and a utility hammer with shattering efficacy, and the flick's violence is definitely not for those who can't take such material depicted with unflinching nastiness. And, as previously mentioned, the film contains several scenes of excruciating torture and sadism that even made me utter assorted exclamations when the going got rough (and, BOY, does it get rough), so proceed with caution if you plan on watching this with friends or family who are not hardened to the excesses of exploitation cinema.
But while THE HORSEMAN has much to offer and is very entertaining, it kind of runs out of steam during its last third and degenerates into repetitiveness as it makes its way to its inevitable climax. The film's structure basically follows Christian's path of vengeance and can more or less be summed up as "Christian finds scumbag, beats the shit out of the guy, tortures him for information and then kills him before continuing on to the next scumbag," and while it's an entertaining ride, it becomes a catalog of predictability (with a few exceptions) that prevents the film from being a classic. That's a frustrating aspect when one considers how strong the narrative is when coming out of the gate and maintaining serious momentum before the final third's coasting (which is not to say that the final act does not contain brutal graphic violence).
But, all quibbles aside, THE HORSEMAN is definitely worth your time, especially if you're looking for the polar opposite of the largely toothless fare that continues to crawl across the world's movie screens. RECOMMENDED.