For mine, director Richard Franklin and writer Everett De Roche are the two most important names when it comes to the lasting legacy of the “Ozploitation” films that enjoyed success in Australia in the 1970’s and 80’s. These men gave a legitimacy to the genre films that they were making by infusing them with top notch writing and expert direction and by looking to get more out of the exploitation film than most. One of Franklin and De Roche’s best films was the 1978 chiller “Patrick”, about a comatose patient who falls in love with a caring nurse and goes about destroying everything she cares about (in jealousy and the hope it will lead her to him) via his telekinetic powers. This is one of the high points in Australia’s exploitation cinema past and yet when I heard that the film was to be updated in a remake, I wasn’t opposed to the idea at all. The time seemed right to revisit “Patrick” and it felt like the perfect candidate for a remake and once I heard that director Mark Hartley was the man behind the remake, I relaxed completely. Hartley is the man responsible for giving all of these “Ozploitation” films a second lease on life, when he made his excellent documentary “Not Quite Hollywood” back in 2008, which focused on the genre films made in this country during the 70’s and 80’s. It was obvious that he would understand the legacy of the original “Patrick” and importantly would respect it, so he seemed the perfect choice to make the film (even if “Patrick” was to be his first dramatic feature).
Despite a number of changes to the story, the core of this remake of “Patrick” stays relatively true to that of the original with most of the main story beats being duplicated here. However, in my opinion, this remake isn’t a patch on the original; in fact Mark Hartley’s “Patrick” turned out to be an utter disappointment. For someone who I thought would be so in tune to the genre and its conventions, I was staggered by how many times Hartley resorted to a cheap jump scare to shake the audience. This was especially prevalent in the opening hour of the film which just seemed to go from jump scare to jump scare without investing in any real suspense or atmosphere. To make matters worse, each time one of these “scares” took place, it was accompanied with a very loud noise to make sure the audience felt a jolt.
In his Q&A after the film, Hartley explained that he felt that the original film lacked an atmosphere to it (something I disagree with) and to improve upon this he designed the hospital to be like some old gothic building that apparently needed to be forever in darkness. Again, this was another decision that I did not like. One thing that makes the original “Patrick” work so well is the fact that it feels like it takes place in a real hospital. The place seems to be occupied with actual working nurses and the hospital was always well lit. That’s what makes the film so chilling; the horrors happening within feel like they are happening at a real place, and you then buy into the believability of the supernatural events that happen within the story. With the new film, although the constant darkness and creep factor of the building may be good to set up a horrific atmosphere, it conversely takes away any feeling of reality because you never once believe that this hospital is real. This is a shame too because I believe the set designers have done a lot of fantastic work here, it is just that they shouldn’t have been made for this film.
Speaking of the visual style, I hate to say it but this was another aspect of the film that I wasn’t impressed with. Hartley mentioned that he wanted to model the look of the film on the thrillers that Brian De Palma made in the early 1980’s and while I applaud that decision, I am afraid he just wasn’t able to pull it off successfully. While there were a couple of nice shots here and there (particularly the overhead shots), it actually felt like more like someone ripping off De Palma rather than being inspired by him. The director of photography on “Patrick” was Garry Richards and this is actually his feature debut and personally I felt that for the majority of the film he lit it far too darkly, making it hard at times to work out exactly what was going on. I also had a problem with a lot of the CGI that was used in the film (particularly of establishing shots like the overhead shot of the road next to the cliff); it just seemed of a very poor quality, especially the CGI matte extensions. I am actually a big fan of matte extensions when used correctly; Hitchcock was a master at using them, but there was one in “Patrick” that I swear was all out of perspective, making it look very odd. If the matte was done properly, it would have been a stunning shot.
It sounds like I am being very hard on this “Patrick” remake, and I am, because the film had so much potential, but was there anything at all I liked about it? Of course there was. I thought some of the performances were fun in a cheesy horror way, and while I definitely think Rachel Griffiths is slumming it here, she was at least a good sport in her role of the bitchy head nurse, Matron Cassidy. Sharni Vinson makes a very appealing lead, giving her character Kathy a big heart and making her someone who obviously cares for the patients (you never question why Patrick falls for her), and I was quite surprised by the quite revealing performance from former “Hey Dad” star Simone Buchanan who plays Patrick’s mother in an extensive flashback. I must say that I also thought the film picked up considerably in the final twenty minutes when Patrick starts to really use his powers.
The biggest coup that the remake has over the original film, though, is its magnificent Pino Donaggio score. Mark Hartley must feel like the luckiest guy on the planet securing the legendary composer for his first film, and Donaggio doesn’t let him down either. This is yet another brilliant horror score from Donaggio that at times is reminiscent of the great Bernard Herrmann’s work. You could have easily excused Donaggio for just throwing together a quickie score (let’s face it, the film is a remake of an Australian film made by a first time director), but instead he goes all out and delivers a full score and boy, is it beautiful.
Overall, I found Mark Hartley’s remake of “Patrick” to be such a disappointment, mainly due to his over-reliance on jump scares. This is sledgehammer cinema; there is nothing subtle at all in “Patrick”, we are regularly told when we are meant to be scared during the film. While the majority of the story beats remain the same from the 1978 original, this version sees Patrick transported (not literally) into the digital age. Personally I think the story works better in the analogue world; watching Patrick accessing iPhones and Facebook with the power of his mind was a little weird, but his is one instance where I do not blame Hartley for the changes. While I was not a fan of this 2013 version of “Patrick”, I still hope that the film is a success when it opens in cinemas in October, just in the hope that we may see a renaissance in genre filmmaking in this country like we saw back in the 1970’s and 80’s.