Fantastic Fest 2008: Jon Hewitt's ACOLYTES
Acolytes is a hard-edged, stylish horror film from Australia that cleverly plays with genre formulas. In this film, a trio of teens, including two boys and a girl, stumble across what they believe to be the resolution of a classmate's disappearance. An ex-convict and a strange fellow in a S.U.V. are part of the story the kids weave to explain the mystery. Instead of talking to the police, however, the boys naively try to leverage the situation to their own advantage. As the scheme inevitably falls apart, perceptions of who are the antagonists and protagonists shift until almost all of the characters are compromised.
Acolytes is directed in a somewhat stylized fashion as evidenced by the use of pop and rock music to frame the emotion of the characters. Underneath the film's slick veneer is a tough core that keeps punching through the surface like a clenched fist. Acolytes is not driven by set pieces but by a plot that seems atypically involved for a modern horror film. The narrative follows what seems to be familiar paths but as the film progresses, multiple layers are revealed. In fact, so many layers are revealed that the film eventually begins to walk a thin line between clever and convoluted. The relationship between the boys and girl forming the love triangle keeps the film together, though. The viewer who keeps an eye on the dynamics of this relationship will be able to smoothly sail through the voluminous twists and turns. The macro-level resolution of the various plot threads in Acolytes is handled in a satisfying way. The ending throws out a few quick twists that dwell a little too much in genre cliches but this is a minor complaint. Acolytes is a smart, technically accomplished work that doesn't hold back.