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Friday, 16 July 2010


Holy crap, I watched THE HORSEMAN last night - a recent Australian revenge flick - and if it's not the definition of 'sombre' and also quite possibly 'horrible' I don't know what is. As a double-bill with DEAD MAN'S SHOES, it was something all right...

Dead Man's Shoes is by English director Shane Meadows, and stars The Most Terrifying Man In Cinema(tm) Paddy Considine. After watching this film you will be in no doubt that he could royally fuck you up if he wanted to. Just make sure you don't target his family...

He plays Richard, the older brother to special needs Anthony. When Anthony's tormented by some men who initially befriend, then humiliate him, Richard returns from the Army to dish out some serious retribution. Likewise, in The Horseman, 44 year old father Christian sets off to visit vengeance upon the men he views as being responsible for the death of his daughter.

Both films cover the same ground, but in drastically different ways. Richard dresses up in a boiler suit and weird gasmask in order to unnerve his victims - and does in fact mess with them for a bit first, letting them know he's coming for them. One stand-out scene sees him confront Sonny, the de facto leader of the gang Anthony fell in with. Sonny squares up to Richard, tries to act tough, and Richard, wearing a face like thunder, holds his hand out, palm up, points to the middle of his palm, says to Sonny, "That's you" then slowly closes his hand. Fantastic.

Christian, on the other hand, doesn't give the men who killed his daughter any such warning. The first they know about his mission for vengeance is when he starts killing them off, and when they tell him who he should talk to Christian says "Already met him". Brrrr!

Both protagonists are men fuelled by the sort of righteous anger that only losing a loved one unjustly can really create, and in both films this sheer emotion is so damn palatable you'll probably need a shower after watching them, especially The Horseman, but more on that in a sec. In Dead Man's Shoe's, you absolutely buy into the relationship between Richard and Anthony, and feel vindicated whenever one of the 'bad guys' gets it (and do they ever! Axes and drugs are the main weapons used against them, partly in a 'poetic justice' manner). Same with The Horseman - Christian's daughter gets involved in a porno, but gets drugged up to the eyeballs and then raped, before being dumped by the road, to die before an ambulance can reach her. The men who did this to her are undoubtedly vile human beings, though not all of them...and his daughter may not be as innocent as she first appeared (did she turn up to the shoot off her tits already, or is this a lie?).

This is one of the main differences between the two films - Dead Man's Shoes baddies are just guys who didn't know when to stop a prank from spilling over into something darker, and are largely drug-using wideboy lads who might get in a pub fight or two but aren't "evil", not as such. The men in The Horseman, however...almost all of them are disgusting creatures that shouldn't be labelled as human beings, though you can easily believe these sort of men exist in the real world.

The biggest difference between the films, however, is the violence. They're probably about as gory as each other, but whereas Dead Man's Shoes can be called "a cool film to watch", maybe with some mates round and some beers, The Horseman really isn't that sort of film at all. Christian's grief is so powerful it borders on the profound, and the fact he isn't an indestructible agent of death but gets his arse kicked a few times, makes it even worse - we WANT him to succeed, even though the things he does are horrible (fish hooks in bits, hammers to heads, etc) (and I love the overall feeling of 'you can do what you like to me because the pain you inflict now is nothing compared to the pain I feel at having lost a child). And whereas you might enjoy seeing some of the payback in Dead Man's Shoes (the drug sequence near the end is as funny as it is uncomfortable), anyone who claims to derive genuine enjoyment from any of the violence in The Horseman isn't right in the head. Yes, feel vindicated, cheer Christian on maybe, but don't high five yourself when he smashes a guy in the legs with a sledgehammer because that's just wrong, my friend. The man might have deserved it but that doesn't necessarily make it right. Violence begets violence, after all.

Curiously, though Dead Man's Shoes is the more 'watchable' of the two films, The Horseman has a potentially happier ending, despite all the rage and blood spewed out in the 90 minutes beforehand. Cathartic? Absolutely. Just don't expect to feel any better about the human race after watching either of these films.

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