The biggest challenge faced by anyone who makes a film about a comatose erotomaniac with psychokinetic powers, is that of maintaining a sense of urgency and dynamism when the chief antagonist remains in a persistent vegetative state. It’s a challenge Richard Franklin didn’t quite meet in his memorable yet not entirely satisfying 1978 thriller Patrick; this remake from Mark Hartley, however, ensures through expert manipulation of atmospheric horror that Patrick’s malevolent presence is palpable throughout. If anyone should know how to deploy horror effectively, it’s Hartley, director of documentary cinema histories Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation (2008) and Machete Maidens Unleashed! (2010). His awareness of the devices of 1970s and early 80s genre cinema is very much on display here in his first fictional feature.
Though ostensibly set in the present, with incorporation of smartphones and social media, Patrick is in most respects a period piece, stylistically redolent of late 70s Argento in its reliance on Gothic spaces and Catholic paraphernalia, the exploitation of reflective surfaces and the frozen, rather fetishised quality of its death scenes. An extravagant score from Pino Donaggio (Don’t Look Now, Carrie) further enhances this retro quality, as does retention of some of the 1978 version’s florid dialogue. The original Patrick boasted Robert Helpmann and Julia Blake as the sinister Doctor Roget and Matron Cassidy; Charles Dance and Rachel Griffiths are worthy successors in Hartley’s version, while as Nurse Kathy Jacquard, the unfortunate object of Patrick’s affection, Sharni Vinson displays the sympathetic vitality that made her a such a memorable horror heroine in You’re Next (2011).
Hartley isn’t afraid to camp it up with lightning, mist and picturesque gloom, but he knows how to use these classically rather than as gratuitous clichés. Patrick is everything a remake should be: not a slavish copy, but a work which, through a deep appreciation of the original, forges its own identity.