A comatose patient with telekinetic powers runs amok without leaving his bed at a mad doctor’s clinic in “Patrick: Evil Awakens.” This well-crafted remake of the 1978 Aussie cult item “Patrick” marks a steady move into scripted features for helmer Mark Hartley, whose impressive documentary “Not Quite Hollywood” chronicled the 1970s and ‘80s golden age of Aussie exploitation cinema. Rich in gothic trappings and sporting a terrific central performance by Sharni Vinson (“You’re Next”) as a nurse in Patrick’s sinister sights, the pic has some wobbly dialogue and doesn’t deliver full-blown terror, but should satisfy audiences hankering for old-school genre entertainment. Tepid B.O. during the film’s October 2013 Oz run doesn’t bode well for its limited U.S. theatrical bow on March 14; outlook is much brighter for same-day VOD release and homevid fortunes.
The film unfolds in the Roget Clinic, a privately run facility for severely traumatized patients housed in a spooky old Victorian-era mansion in a remote seaside location. Imperious lord of the rundown manor is Dr. Sebastian Roget (Charles Dance), a brilliant and controversial scientist whose pet project is Patrick Thompson (Jackson Gallagher), a hunky young man stuck in a vegetative state after a shocking incident in his teenage years. Under severe pressure from financial backers to “get results,” Roget figures his best bet is to revive Patrick, whose sole signs of life are involuntary muscle reactions that produce spitting at regular intervals.
The story moves along briskly with Roget’s severely stitched-up daughter and clinic supervisor, Matron Cassidy (Rachel Griffiths), hiring highly qualified nurse Kelly Jacquard (Vinson). Some momentum is lost with lame conversations between Kelly and Nurse Williams (Peta Sergeant), a cheery co-worker who offers to set up recently separated Kelly with Dr. Brian Wright (Martin Crewes), a smooth-talking psychiatrist and minor media celebrity.
Things get back on track when Kelly is left alone with Patrick after assisting Roget with his unethical experiments. It’s not long before the patient is moving things around and sending her increasingly scary messages via computer and cell phone about wanting to “watch over her.”
Naturally, this means bad news for everyone around Kelly, including ex-b.f. Ed (Damon Gameau), who’s shown up with reconciliation in mind. What will please viewers already placing bets on the final death toll is the visual energy and imagination at work when Patrick’s dark thoughts transform into lethal actions, and Vinson’s winning turn as the imperiled woman who fights back. As with her not-dissimilar role in body-count horror-thriller “You’re Next,” the talented Aussie performer displays the crucial ability to connect emotionally with auds and register as a heroine truly worth rooting for.
Distinguished British veteran Dance brings a touch of class to the proceedings and delivers some juicy dark humor as the medico with a God complex. Griffiths is less well served by debut scripter Justin King, writing her an initially intriguing character that falls by the wayside as the supernatural activity ramps up. Cultists will delight in brief appearances by 1978 cast members Rod Mullinar as Roget’s money man and Maria Mercedes as Ed’s doctor.
With veteran Aussie exploitation mogul Antony I. Ginnane producing both the original version and this remake, it’s perhaps no surprise that “Patrick: Evil Awakens” is largely faithful in plot and tone to its predecessor. Were it not for the sight of cell phones and computer screens. audiences could be forgiven for thinking this reboot was made in the same era as the Richard Franklin-directed original.
The retro feel starts with lenser Garry Richards’ steady camera, moody lighting and classical widescreen compositions, as well as action setpieces that are light on CGI and heavy on old-style prosthetics and makeup effects. Production designer Robbie Perkins gives Roget’s musty mansion the ambience of an early ’70s Hammer or Amicus chiller. A highly effective if overused score by genre specialist Pino Donaggio evokes memories of his famous work for “Dressed to Kill” (1980) and “The Howling” (1981). All other technical aspects are on the money.