Friday, December 12, 2014

Cult-Movie Review: Patrick: Evil Awakens (2014)


Mark Hartley’s remake of Richard Franklin’s Patrick (1978), called Patrick: Evil Awakens (2014), is an enthusiastic but not entirely successful update of the classic Australian horror film. Unlike many horror remakes, this modern re-imagination at the very least boasts the impression that every choice made by its director has a coherent explanation underlining it, even if some of those choices don’t quite work out in execution.  The film is well made, but not very good, if that description makes sense.

Fortunately, Patrick: Evil Awakens is splendidly cast, with Charles Dance, Rachel Griffiths and Sharni Vinson contributing their considerable talents to the film. They all do good work here, especially Vinson. Her updated version of Kathy Jacquard is the audience’s primary point of identification, and she projects well both vulnerability and strength.

Also, I would have believed it impossible to improve on Brian May’s score for Patrick (1978), but Pino Donaggio’s swooning efforts here are truly remarkable, and provide the remake a dramatic and unexpected lift.  Some moments in the film that may have played as truly uninspiring if unaccompanied by his score instead get elevated to near Hitchcockian-territory.

Overall, it appears to me like Hartley made two big creative (and ambitious…) choices in terms of revamping Patrick. 

One was to, essentially, “Gothic-ize” every visual aspect of the film. The original film was very naturalistic, very “seventies” in its manner and mode of storytelling. The new approach renders the film classical in some sense…though at the same time more cartoonish.

The second creative choice involves clarification. Evil Awakens tightens up some loose ends (and trims about twenty minutes of story…which is a good thing) and makes Patrick’s abilities more understandable, more linear.  

Now, when Patrick reaches out from his comatose state, we actually go inside his brain and see his neurons sparking and zapping.  Again, however, there’s a pitfall to such visualization or clarification. We are scared, as human beings of the things we don’t understand, not the things that we do understand. Clarifying Patrick’s world (and abilities) solves some problems and streamlines some aspects of the narrative well, but by the same token, undercuts the titular character’s ability to transmit to audiences as genuinely frightening.

I’ll go into more detail below, but clearly there are good qualities and bad qualities in both these creative selections, which is why, in the end, Patrick: Evil Awakens (2014) may please some and repel others. The remake only works well about half-the-time, and in the end, one is left considering that, finally, even with hindsight and thirty years of technological advances, Richard Franklin told Patrick’s story more effectively (and more enjoyably) the first time around.


“When that door opens, your old ways die.”

A young nurse, Kathy (Vinson) is hired at the isolated Roget Clinic by Matron Cassidy (Griffiths) and Roget himself (Dance). She is immediately tasked with caring for a non-responsive coma patient, Patrick (Jackson Gallagher), in room 15.

Kathy is horrified to see Patrick subjected to terrible, painful tests by Dr. Roget, and develops a sense of affection and sympathy for the young patient. 

Soon, however, Patrick uses telekinesis to reach out and impact those around him, including Kathy…


“The only thing more dangerous than his hate is his love.”

The original Patrick had this kind of kitchen-sink reality to it. The hospital was a real place in the real world (on a real street), and apartments, offices and other locations all looked believable and authentic. The only point of fantasy, essentially, was Patrick, who -- from his silent, unmoving perch -- could shape events to his liking.

The Roget Clinic, circa 1978
In the new Patrick, all semblance of kitchen sink reality is gone, and intentionally so. The Roget Clinic is now a vast, mansion-like haunted house perched atop a mountain. On the edge of its grounds is an old lighthouse, and a turbulent cliff-side overlooking a roiled ocean.

The Roget Clinic, 215





Menacing-looking religious statuary dot the landscape, and thunder and lightning punctuate the night.  This is the realm not of reality but of Gothic horror.  On one hand, this choice offers an intriguing interpretation of the story, since we are asked to countenance Dr. Roget as not just a quirky, strange fellow this time, but a full-fledged mad scientist, particularly Dr. Frankenstein. The reality of Roget as a modern-day Frankenstein is reflected in the Gothic décor of his clinic. There’s even a horrific laboratory in the basement.

I can readily understand why it was decided to go with this visual approach -- modern Gothic -- but the downside is that it seems a little exaggerated, or one dimensional. By taking Patrick’s world to this formal realm of classic horror, the film almost automatically becomes a little less scary.  We know, from the frightful skies, unearthly mists, and menacing architecture that we aren’t quite in the world that we know.

Sometimes going big is just silly. For instance, in the original film, Patrick would sometimes spit at those around him, a supposedly involuntary or reflex action.  The idea was handled with restraint. 

Here, the first time Patrick spits on Kathy, it is a giant, wet, sloppy ejaculation of spit, so gooey and over-the-top that it evokes laughter, not surprise or horror.

Likewise, the clinic’s other patient, Old Captain Fraser, is now scarred and burned, a veritable monster in appearance.

When giant syringes start to show up in the story -- filled with glowing yellow-green chemicals -- Patrick: Evil Awakens inhabits an almost cartoon horror world.  And again, when reality is sacrificed or exaggerated to such a degree it’s harder to be intimately involved with the characters.  That we are intimately involved with Kathy in this case is a direct result of Vinson’s strong presence and extreme likability.  We are invested in her, and her survival.  The storyline does her no favors, either.  One dream sequence is so confusing that we’re left unsure whether or not she has actually slept with her doctor boyfriend, Brian, or it was just a phantasm.

All this established, I would nonetheless highly praise Hartley for his creation of some remarkable compositions in the film, including those that deploy extensive (and not always photo-real) CGI.  If Hitchcock were alive and working in cinema today, he would no doubt deploy CGI in a similar fashion. Hitch used special effects such as matte paintings extensively in his film work, and I feel he would probably utilize CGI the same way today, to expand the breadth and depth of his frame.

The only working director today I know who successfully apes Hitchcock’s approach -- but with CGI, not old school effects -- is David Fincher.  Today I would add to that list Mark Hartley, because he creates several very precise, very beautiful (and revealing) compositions that use both live-action and digital images. One interpret this integrated approach as an homage to Franklin, I suppose, since he was a Hitchcock protégé. Many shots in Patrick: Evil Awakens are orchestrated with real aplomb.

Perhaps because of the more formalist, expressive approach to the material, Patrick: Evil Awakens often cut to repetitive cut-away close ups of Patrick’s eyeballs, as they fill with blood and fury. The original film did not need to frequently resort to close-ups of the character. The creepy thing about him in the Franklin film was the fact that he was ever-present, but largely ignored by others.  He was always present, however, in the background, wheedling his malicious way into our world. The new film totally loses that idea by giving us so many dedicated, extreme close-ups of Gallagher.A consequence: subtlety and nuance is sacrificed. We aren’t asked to reckon with deep focus, or the background of the frame. Again, the big Gothic approach renders the story somehow more superficial or shallow.

The second choice I mentioned above involves clarification.  In the original film, some connections had to be made on the part of the film’s audience. How, precisely, did Patrick make Ed burn his hands in one scene, for instance? It wasn’t entirely clear. 


Well, the new film clears it up. Patrick psychokinetically dials his enemies’ phone numbers, and then sort of possesses them for a time, making them do what he wishes. We see this process in detail in the film, with him “mentally” dialing the phone, connecting to his quarry, and his neurons firing away.  This is fine, but in some ways clarification of this sort can diminish a sense of terror. Furthermore, the film isn’t consistent about Patrick’s “travels” If he has to move his consciousness on radio or electrical waves, then how can we explain his ability to write “You are Mine” on a mirror when he has not phoned someone and possessed a body?  Clarification is important, but so is consistency.  If you elaborate on the rules of the bogeyman, you have to stick to them.


Contrarily, sometimes the streamlining works nicely in the film. I liked the new and improved touch that Matron Cassidy is actually Roget’s daughter, and her rebellion in the film’s last act is not just a moral stance, but an affirmation of her independence from an overbearing, monstrous father figure.  I also admire the fact that this film is about twenty-minutes shorter than the original, which dragged in the third act.


In the final analysis, Patrick (1978) was very much a film about two people -- Kathy and Patrick -- who were living in a “trance.” When the met, they were both jolted out of that trance, essentially. 

The new film has many pretty toys and many pretty bells and whistles, but ultimately all the embellishments succeed only in distancing us from that particular story, and that particular leitmotif.  The bigger and more Gothic Patrick’s world becomes, the less a force he seems to be in it. 

By the end of the film he is using zombie minions and causing poltergeist-like psychokinetic disturbances, and -- again -- the feeling is not of adding meaningfully to the Patrick story, but of simply adding too much to it.

With all the CGI and special effects in the film, it is telling that one of the most powerful scenes in the film remains one in which Kathy innocently (and yet erotically) explores Patrick’s body, and asks him if he can “feel” her touch. 

Here, her hands slip under his pants, in plain view, and she starts to explore what she finds, before being interrupted by Matron Cassidy. Moments of pure human interaction like that one -- which probably couldn’t have been shown in such detail in the 1970s version – could have been at the heart of this remake instead of a decision to go big and Gothic.


I didn’t hate Patrick: Evil Awakens, in part because of the dedicated performances, in part because I feel Hartley is an intelligent presence, and one capable of executing some powerful shot.  But I just feel -- as I often do with modern horror remakes -- that somehow the spirit of the original gets lost in translation.

At one point in Patrick: Evil Awakens, a nurse warns Kathy not to put a potted plant in Patrick’s room.  “You’re wasting your time,” she says. “Nothing grows in here.”

Evil Awakens is proof of that idea. 

It tries in vain to recapture and make bigger Patrick’s dark world, but ends up, paradoxically, shrinking the material and making it all seem abundantly less interesting and human.  

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