Patrick Remade: Return of the Catatonic

PatrickHaving just recently posted about my love for Ozploitation cinema, I was more than a little enthusiastic to score tickets to the world premiere of Patrick, a remake of the Australian cult classic of the same name. Even more exciting was the fact that the film was to be directed by none other than Mark Hartley, the man whose documentary, Not Quite Hollywood (2008), resurrected countless Ozploitation classics, giving them a second life long after they’d been relegated to the back pages of cinematic history. More exciting even than that, the world premiere (part of the Melbourne International Film Festival) was to feature a Q&A with Mark Hartley, the cast and crew, and the legendary producer Antony Ginnane (the Australian equivalent of Roger Corman). Well, the Melbourne International Film Festival world premiere has come and gone, and my verdict is in.

For those who’ve never seen Patrick (1978), the story is relatively simple. A catatonic teenager with a sketchy past begins to make some kind of contact with his hospital nurse, first through a spitting reflex (referenced in Tarantino’s Kill Bill) and later through telekinetic power. As his powers develop and his feelings for the nurse grow, Patrick’s attentions become increasingly malign. Meanwhile, amoral experimentation on the part of the hospital’s senior staff appears to be related to Patrick’s increasing power.

The plot remains close to identical across both films, but Hartley’s adaptation of Patrick takes a radically different approach to the Richard Franklin helmed original, whose main point of interest lay in its extreme characterisations, bizarre moments of grotesquerie and general sense of barely contained excess. Instead, Hartley’s film is a gothic thriller (The Orphanage was his aesthetic benchmark) that effectively blends old-school shocks, some brutal imagery, sly comedic wit and an occasional nod to its ancestry. The good news is that, in general, it works – in many ways far more effectively than its predecessor.

Justin King’s script is generally much tighter, wittier and more intelligent than the original. Garry Richard’s cinematography is gorgeous – perhaps the first time that Australian cinema has effectively developed a gothic aesthetic. Even more importantly, Hartley directs the film with fresh eyes, producing a version of Patrick that engages with legacy while clearly embracing a vision of its own.

Horror cinema is so frequently hampered by mediocre performances that undermine the authenticity of the production, and Patrick largely manages to avoid such pitfalls. Charles Dance entirely owns the film as Doctor Roget, a charismatic combination of suave and psychotic and the film’s true villain. Dance, who is currently most recognised for his performance in Game of Thrones, can probably take credit for a large portion of the film’s success. Rachel Griffiths also delivers the goods as Matron Cassidy, a character as funny as she is disturbing. Sharni Vinson does a decent job as the lead character, Nurse Kathy Jacquard – a part that, by its very nature, draws less attention than the villains of the piece. And Jackson Gallagher, who plays Patrick, does a good job of… not moving.

There are a few bumps in the road though. Hartley has made much of the fact that the film’s score was composed by none other than Pino Donaggio, most famous for his work on classics like Carrie (1976), Don’t Look Now (1973) and The Howling (1981). While Donaggio’s score is effective, Hartley’s over-zealous use of it throughout the film becomes quite distracting – a view I heard expressed by many in attendance. Given the generally excellent quality of the production, it would be wonderful to see Hartley review this before the film is given a general release.

Patrick also has the rather odd trait of maturing as the film develops. During the course of the first thirty minutes, the use of false shocks and the aforementioned overused score come close to grinding the film to a halt. Then all of a sudden the film shifts radically – its rhythm, pacing and plot development come together to produce an entirely effective thrill ride for the remainder of the film. Another element that might be worth revisiting before a commercial release.

There are many who would quite understandably question the need for another remake. I have no argument here, except to note that Hartley’s feature film debut is clearly a project of love rather than a solely commercial venture. For my part, I’m happy to see Australian filmmaker’s doing decent genre pictures, especially when they might draw a little more attention to some of Australia’s less appreciated cinematic history.

Patrick Remake – Trailer

Patrick Original – Trailer

James Curnow is an obsessive cinephile and the owner and head editor of CURNBLOG. His work as a film journalist has been published in a range of print and digital publications, including The Guardian, Broadsheet and Screening the Past. James is currently working through a PhD in Film Studies, focused primarily on issues of historical representation in Contemporary Hollywood cinema.

18 thoughts on “Patrick Remade: Return of the Catatonic

  1. Just had a chance to sit down and watch this (finally!). Quite a romp. The special effects weren’t overdone, but where they were, they were done exquisitely (I had to close my eyes during THAT part of the mirror scene…), and the new version seems to have a stronger emphasis on the obsessive-love-story subtext that brings a nice parallel to the twin Patrick/Ed stories.

    I do wish there’d been a bit more characterization on some of the minors. Paula, especially, could have used a bit of fleshing out. She’s ALMOST there in the first half-hour, then she just fades into the background, as ghostly as our main character’s predecessor.

  2. I’m interested in seeing this. The original scared the daylights out of me, and I just saw the late night tv version, I’ve never seen the theatrical version.

  3. I was interested to read this James. As you know, I am a fan of the original, and did not expect much from a remake. Despite this, your take on it makes me want to see Hartley’s film, and the casting of Charles Dance should work in its favour. Don’t know about ‘Game of Thrones’, but he has hardly ever turned in a duff performance, in numerous films and dramas.
    One potential ‘convert’ from England at least. Regards as always, Pete.

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