ACOLYTES is the work of Jon Hewitt, a man whose short resume of movies (both as writer and director) doesn’t stray too far from the thriller genre. With Acolytes he has an ‘additional writing’ credit along side two other writers, Shayne Armstrong and Shane Krause, whose only other credits are for the first two episodes of the Doctor Who spin-off series K9. It seems like an odd union… which could explain the rampant schizophrenia exhibited by every character in the movie.
Acolytes is the kind of thriller that rattles around in your head, looking for a place to be kept. Did I like it? Did I hate it? Was it great? Was it crap? The problem is that I just can’t seem to get the film to stay in one place long enough for me to take a long subjective look at it, and then stick it in the right pigeon-hole. My biggest issue with this film is that it’s just too damn patchy.
The young cast struggle with some horribly clunky dialogue. With each line, they pass an imaginary cinder-block between them, eventually the manual labour of which begins to take it’s toll on the viewer too. The characters are incomplete, and inconsistent. They do the inexplicable, the irrational, and are frustrating beyond the limits of any normal human mind… But then, they are teenagers. Damaged ones, at that.
Mark, James and Chasely are an inseparable trio of Aussie teens, living in the suburbs. Chasely and James are a couple. Mark, on occasion, can be made to feel a little like a third wheel and to make matters worse, he harbors feelings for Chasely. One afternoon, while giving the others some space, Mark witnesses a man burying something in nearby bush land. He tells the others, and they make the first in a long line of decisions which are clearly deficient of any common sense: They plan to return to the site and dig up whatever has been buried there. They speculate that it could be the body of a missing local girl Tanya Lee, but hold out more hope that they’ll find a stash of money, or drugs.
They’re all wrong. It’s a body alright, but that of a Canadian hiker, not the local girl they entertained it could be. After initially attempting to notify the police, the trio decided that they’ll track down the serial killer themselves. But this is no Hardy Boy’s mystery [Ask your parents], there’s no turning him in to the police, there’s no reward collected, instead these stupid kids try to blackmail the sadistic killer into take care of some of their own unfinished business.
The plot of Acolytes really is quite good. I’d even go so far as to say it’s one of the best serial-killer, horror movies that I’ve seen in a while. Unfortunately the patchy nature of just about every other aspect of the film lets it down. I could complement just about every component of Acolytes: The acting, the audio, the cinematography, the pacing, the plot. But equally so, at some point during the movie (some more than others) each of those things lets this production down.
One thing that can’t be faulted though is the DVD release. The thing is packed with extras! Two alternate endings, making of, interviews, commentary tracks, and almost an hour’s worth of 5.1 soundtrack.
To be fair I’m probably being harder on this movie than I am on most, because it is Australian. But once the movie has rattled around your head for a while, chances are you’ll forgive its weak points. When it’s all said and done, this is a pretty damn sold, edge of your seat, thriller.