An Australian remake of the little-seen 1978 Australian “Ozploitation” horror film of the same name, Patrick isn’t get-under-your-skin scary, but it sure is hokey, overheated fun. Documentary short director Mark Hartley, working from a screenplay by first-timer Justin King, has not only crafted a knowingly pulpy, lushly atmospheric homage to the original film that few probably know, but tips his hat to the overall tone of the gothic Hammer films of yore. Plainly, this is just gravy for a classic horror fan.
After a pretty, nubile nurse mysteriously flies the coop, young nurse Kathy Jacquard (Sharni Vinson) arrives at the seaside psychiatric ward Roget Clinic for a job. Run by the intimidating Dr. Sebastian Roget (Charles Dance) and his icy daughter, Matron Cassidy (Rachel Griffiths), the compound houses multiple patients who are all brain-dead vegetables. Kathy “meets” Dr. Roget’s “special project” named Patrick (Jackson Gallagher), who survived a family accident and remains perfectly preserved by drugs and electrical treatments. He lies in a vegetative state and spits, which is brushed off as an “involuntary muscle reaction,” but upon Kathy’s arrival, Patrick takes a liking to her. As Roget inflicts Patrick with daily electro-convulsive treatments, Kathy remains convinced the unblinking specimen is conscious and that her boss should not be forcing consent for the coma patient. Could Patrick be even more aware and in control than Kathy thinks? Will Kathy’s ex-boyfriend, Ed (Damon Gameau), and soon-to-be doctor boyfriend, Brian (Martin Crewes), get in the way? Maybe Patrick is just a misunderstood monster, but he clearly wants Kathy all to himself and isn’t about to take “no” for an answer.
Director Hartley and screenwriter King wholeheartedly embrace the overwrought nature of their material, dealing with obsession, psychosis, and telekinesis, set in an old, creepy hospital ward, and inject it all with a contemporary, tech-modern spin. Post-Carrie, telekinesis is worked well into the world of iPhones and even sandwich grills, turning every electrical item a death trap for those that stand in between Patrick and Kathy. For once, text messaging has some value, as Patrick is able to communicate his endearing words and eventual threats with Kathy. Playing like a funhouse carnival ride, every inch of Patrick nails the look and feel of an old-fashioned horror tale. This is a technically well-made film, Robbie Perkins’ retro production design and Garry Richards’ slick, steady lensing of the seaside asylum, lighthouses and hospital wings a feast for the eyes, with a little CG assist aside. Even in his first time out behind the camera, Richards’ fluidity of motion is strongly assured, as he uses the camera as a prime tool for manipulation. There’s even the cleverly macabre intercutting between a car falling off a cliff and an Alka-Seltzer falling into a water glass. Known for composing for Brian De Palma, Pino Donaggio’s classically theatrical score is a delight, despite it going overboard even when no menace has arrived yet. Then again, subtlety and restraint aren’t really on the menu here.
Making quite the impression as the usual so-called “Final Girl” in 2013’s You’re Next, Sharni Vinson continues to impress. Here, as Kathy, she is a warm, appealing presence, the first to show a kindness to Patrick and the first none too weak to stand up to him once his psychotic game is revealed. The character is clearly drawn with a survivor arc, but Kathy doesn’t need a man, either, alive and functioning or comatose, telekinetic, and psychotic. In more-than-capable support, Rachel Griffiths is amusingly glacial and has more complexity than she lets on as Matron Cassidy, who acts like she can’t be trusted but might actually be trapped herself; Charles Dance is deliciously wily as the mad Dr. Roget, who faces pressure from the trustee board and spends most of his time in the off-limits basement laboratory; and Peta Sergeant is a likably fetching scene-stealer as the saucy Nurse Williams. Finally, it’d be unfair to fail to mention he who nabbed the role of the titular Patrick. Ashton Kutcher lookalike Jackson Gallagher manages a chilling feat by just getting to lay there expressionless, his physically toned body still and his eyes ever open.
Patrick moves at a clip rate, all the way to a deliriously bonkers climax of glass-breaking, electrocution, an elevator mishap . . . and, yes, sexual-favor chanting and frog-eating. The film might lean heavily on the pop-up jolts, accompanied by Donaggio’s high-flown strings. At one point, a scare is even delivered twice in a row from the simple ring of a phone to a hard knock at the door, however, that is part of the fun. A campy one-two punch of a dream sequence that is outwardly De Palma-esque doesn’t hurt, either. If Patrick won’t have you recoiling in fright, it will surely slap an ear-to-ear grin on one’s face as a giddily old-school treat in Grand Guignol style.
Patrick is available on VOD, In Theaters and iTunes as of this week.