August 10, 2008 | Graham

The Horseman – give the boy a budget

If it wasn’t for Australia’s housing boom The Horseman, Stephen Kastrissios’ first feature film, may never have been made. It was financed out of the sale of a house he bought just a few years ago.
Which gives me a problem: how do you review a movie made for just $80,000? For the investment it is a brilliant success. It was shot “guerilla style” which meant no elaborate sets and lighting and limited rehearsals. Kastrissios was director, producer and screen writer. The actors worked for a share of the profits, or nothing, depending on your assessment of the movie’s prospects. So there is commitment and passion, and some of the scenes work very well as a result.
But does the movie actually work as a movie, rather than a demonstration of what you can do with small budgets? On this basis the answer is no. The Blair Witch Project, produced on a budget of US$35,000, was a commercial success, grossing US$248 million world-wide, shows that small budgets can produce very successful movies. The Horseman won’t come close to this in commercial terms, but that doesn’t make it exactly a failure either.
I think the major flaw in the movie was the script. Kastrissios was obviously conscious of this when he told the audience in the Q&A after the screening that he admired the work of Mel Gibson as a director because his films lacked a well-developed plot, relying rather on raw emotional urgency to carry the action. This technique might work for Gibson – I wouldn’t rate Apocalypto too highly, and The Passion of the Christ had an historical and religious reality outside the artifice of the flim giving the action depth and resonance – but it doesn’t work for The Horseman.
Perhaps it could have worked if the violence had been more artful. I did find myself laughing at the end, in the way that you could at the end of Carrie when the hand comes up from the mound, but there weren’t enough of those sorts of surprises. And smart action like that takes time and money.
Or it might have worked if the plot didn’t miss a few opportunities. The central character, Christian (played by Peter Marshall, who carries the film, appearing in just about every scene) creates mayhem up and down the Queensland coast, and at one stage we see news footage that had me wondering for a while whether the central tension would be whether he could hunt down all the bad guys before the police hunted him down. The police do turn up, and it is a surprise, but adds to plot tension only momentarily, and then towards the end.
The other opportunity missed was the relationship between Christian and Alice (played by Caroline Marohasy). If Alice had not been in the movie at all, I don’t think it would have made any dramatic difference. The character could have been a foil to the constant violence, or a tool to explore Christian’s mental state, but in the end was just another prop to hang a fight sequence on. Marohasy did the best she could with the material – a creditable debut – but there could have been much more for her to work with.
Would I recommend The Horseman? Yes. Despite its faults it did grab me, and I had to consciously relax my hamstrings a number of times as I got drawn in. It’s also likely to be the first chapter in a creditable movie career for the director, and Marohasy. It might even be the leg-up that Peter Marshall needs to boost his career beyond simple jobbing actor and occasional taxi driver.

Posted by Graham at 9:32 pm | Comments (2) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. A well thought out review. To make a few corrections: I did get paid as an actor and it was what I considered to be quite a fair amount additional to a small stake in the movie.
    Steven drove taxis for a while to earn extra money for the film, so it may need to be checked whether that was Peter or Steven.
    There are many artists who need to work two jobs to make a living or even just create their projects. If the government put a fraction of the amount of money into arts as it does into sports, we may have a much more cultured, creative, tolerant, educated, and understanding community.
    Also, Peter Marshall is a well established and successful theatre actor with the Queensland Theatre Company among other jobs.
    And I would like to make the point that there is nothing simple about being an actor.

    Comment by Caroline Marohasy — August 10, 2008 @ 11:33 pm

  2. Ok…so this reply is about 5 years too late. I just watched The Horseman on Netflix.

    I thought Apocalypto was brilliant (and I wasn’t alone). While The Horseman isn’t up to those standards, it’s a sound film whether budget is a consideration or not. A few of the “henchmen” weren’t the best actors and yes, the script asked us to accept unrealistic premises on top of the film’s main premise, but I enjoyed it.

    As for the character played by Caroline Marohasy, it seemed to me that Christian’s dealing with her made him revisit being a father and decide to call off the rest of his crusade (which was, of course, not to be), but it did serve a plot point and without her, he would have seemed to lack humanity.

    Overall, I was a lot happier watching this than Blair Witch. That awful excuse for a film, successful as it was, had all hype and zero substance.

    Comment by Jack — August 21, 2013 @ 9:53 pm

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