A few years ago, an Aussie by the name of Mark Hartley made a first-rate documentary called Not Quite Hollywood that shined a light on the wild and woolly world that is Australian genre and exploitation cinema dubbed, lovingly, as “Ozsploitation”. Among the films that Hartley spotlighted was a 1978 Carrie riff imaginatively dubbed Patrick, the story of a creepy telepathic boy who didn’t let a little thing like being comatose stop his pursuit of the kindly nurse he makes an object of his obsession. With a few mildly entertaining set pieces separated by a whole lot of arid filler, it isn’t exactly a film anyone really remembers with great fondness—if at all—which kinda makes it all the more surprising that Hartley chose a remake of it as his first narrative feature.
But he did and thank god for that — his Patrick is great pulpy fun. You’ll know whether or not you’re down for Hartley’s unabashedly old-fashioned mix of Gothic sensibilities and cheap jolt-scare horror right from the get go: a pretty young thing in a nurse’s uniform goes prowling in darkened places she shouldn’t be and meets a bad end as the strings of the legendary Pino Donaggio’s soundtrack shriek in the background (any director who hires the great composer Donaggio to provide his score is already starting off the right foot.) Cut to the remote, windswept manse known as the Roget Clinic where capable nurse Kathy Jacquard (the ever likable Sharni Vinson) is applying for a job caring for the comatose patients who make up the clinic’s “clientele.”
From the moment Game of Thrones’ Charles Dance and Rachel Griffiths show up as the father/daughter tag team of head doctor and head nurse, respectively, Hartley shows his hand at exactly what kind of film Patrick is. Both actors bite into their roles with scenery-chewing aplomb and the film turns into the kind of straightforward but spirited shocker that teeters on the knife’s edge of camp. There are probably many who will find it absolutely silly, but there’s no denying that it’s also knowing fun, without falling into the trap of coming off as self-consciously “meta” or homagistic.
It’s bad enough that Kathy has an imperious boss and creepily icy matron to deal with, but her kindness to the strange vegetable named Patrick (Jackson Gallagher)—Dr. Roget’s much abused, troubled pet project—makes her the focus of his psychic fixation. First communicating with via spitting reflexes and then taking over her computer, Patrick grows increasingly attached and it isn’t long before he begins to astrally target anyone who gets in his way of claiming Kathy as his own.
Hartley establishes a DePalma-esque playfulness early on in his editing and shooting techniques, and he happily indulges in a lot of blackly comic moments throughout—a late in the game act of multi-body possession is at once absurd, hilarious and weirdly creepy—as well as plenty of unashamed jump scares. Sure, Hartley also douses his film with too much truly shoddy CGI work and the rules of Patrick’s telepathic abilities are never really explained (often it involves electricity but sometimes it doesn’t) but one hardly cares as Patrick happens to be a heck of a lot of fun.
The clinic itself is a grandly Gothic location, full of plunging, shadowy corridors and dungeon-like basements, the main cast is spot on with Vinson’s capable vulnerability bouncing off Dance’s and Griffith’s delightfully hammy malevolence (kudos, too, to Peta Sargent as saucy fellow nurse), and Hartley’s direction is stylish, cheeky and elegant. Patrick will never win points for subtlety but as a throwback to the kinds of horror films they don’t make it anymore, its a welcome addition to the Aussie genre canon.
4 out of 5 stars