“PATRICK” (Fantastic Fest Movie Review)
The suspenseful opening sequence of Mark Hartley’s narrative debut, PATRICK, deals in a time honored thriller trope. A nurse, dangerously sneaking through pitch black halls and seemingly aiming to uncover something secret, uses her camera flash to help her see. It’s a device that’s perhaps most iconic in Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW, but has been utilized in countless films since. It’s certainly not employed to poor effect here, and once the opening titles reveal a score from Pino Donaggio and the film itself is decorated by gothic interiors (not dissimilar from the medical estate in Aussie great NEXT OF KIN) and vintage nurse uniforms, it’s immediately endearing what the filmmaker is striving toward.
In remaking an Australian exploitation thriller that rode a wave of CARRIE-sploitation, Hartley continues the cribbing, updating the tale of a telekinetic coma patient with as much style influence from Brian De Palma as may be possible (although sadly, no split screen). That’s not so much a knock. There’s plenty worse to take strong influence from and Hartley seems to harbor the playful inclination necessary to pull it off. It gives most of the proceedings a warm, welcoming air, rather than “we’ve seen it all before.”
In PATRICK, young academic and nurse Kathy Jacquard (YOU’RE NEXT’s Sharni Vinson) comes to a rural estate to assist in research into the care of coma patients. There, she becomes suspicious of Doctor Roget (GAME OF THRONES’ Charles Dance) and his severe daughter’s ethics—including fairly brutal shock therapy—and takes a shine to the titular boy, who seems to be alive behind a blank stare. As anyone likely familiar with the original film will know, Patrick does indeed have something of a spark. Psychically powered, the comatose Patrick communicates via telekinesis, which most often manifests via technology. The shine Kathy takes to Patrick provokes his obsession and soon everyone around her is a threat.
There’s something smart in updating the story of a vicious telekinetic who utilizes technology. Of course, we’ve come far since 1976 and PATRICK feels particularly poignant at times, especially when the character uses his powers to stalk Kathy and those she associates with through social media. The vegetative, obsessive young man can only communicate adequately via electronics, becoming particularly hostile when he doesn’t get his way. Frankly that sounds like much of the internet.
That little parallel, coupled with the always engaging abuse of medical prowess, peppers PATRICK with enough meat, but its strengths lie in Hartley’s aforementioned style. Elegant camerawork, lush design and plenty of split diopter tell a visually exciting tale, even throughout the many bits of exposition. It also helps that Vinson and Peta Sergeant (who plays co-employee Nurse Williams) have an easy, natural chemistry.
Where PATRICK stumbles from delightfully old fashioned to sadly old hat is Hartley’s overreliance on over-pronounced jolts. The filmmaking, while aesthetically pleasing, often fails to build any real scares. The actual tension comes from Hartley’s blatant shooting of the graphic shock therapy, and more sexually charged scenes like Kathy acting on her suspicions that Patrick can respond to touch. What’s more, the film employs a fair amount of digital trickery that unfortunately violently clashes with the vintage design.
Still, PATRICK remains something of an accomplished debut from the director of such beloved docs as NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD and MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED!, one that suggests more thrilling style to come.