He sees dead people – in his office – all the time! The spectre of The Sixth Sense hovers inescapably over the newest entrant in the Oz-horror genre, in which grieving Melbourne psychiatrist Peter Bower (Adrien Brody, with an impeccable local accent), devastated by personal tragedy, slowly realises that the clients he’s been diagnosing are all dearly departed. This sparks both some awkward conversations with Peter’s university mentor (Sam Neill) and a journey back to his rural hometown, the pointedly named False Creek, where he reconnects with his retired cop dad (George Shevtsov) and tries to penetrate a decades-old tragedy.
Australian writer-director Michael Petroni has worked on several Hollywood scripts including the most recent Narnia film. His previous directorial effort was Till Human Voices Wake Us (2002), also a ghost story but one that substituted overwrought drama for scares. Backtrack recaptures the earlier film’s eerie atmosphere but is not above shoving scary faces at the camera. Schlock it may be, and sticklers will complain about plot holes (if his clients are spooks, who’s paying the bills?), but there’s no denying the mood of dread conjured up here, nor the strength of the performances. As Brody proved in his Oscar-winning turn in The Pianist, no one can play a haunted soul quite like him – he’s captivating. – Nick Dent