PLOT: A nurse is intrigued by a comatose patient who she eventually learns has telekinetic abilities… and an unhealthy fixation with her.
REVIEW: If you like your horror movies crazier than a sack of cats than PATRICK (or PATRICK: EVIL AWAKENS) will probably be for you. Mark Hartley's remake of the 1978 Ozploitation cult classic is big on spooky atmosphere, melodrama and jump scares and short on subtlety; it probably won't linger with you for long afterwards like the great horror movies do, but it'll give you a fun ride while you're with it.
I'll be upfront and admit I have not seen the original Richard Franklin film, so I can't say how faithful this is to that one's spirit. I'm guessing it's more or less keeping in the same spirit, as Hartley is a bona fide Aussie cinephile, having made his mark with the documentary NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF OZPLOITATION. The director, making his narrative feature debut, has assembled a concoction that is freaky and not afraid to be over-the-top, with almost every element - including cast, music, production design and cinematography - working overtime to be as vivid as possible. Though it often veers into territory you might deem unintentionally funny, PATRICK is so determined to elicit a reaction from you it's hard to say that it's not tongue-in-cheek, or at the very least cleverly going for the jugular with no shame.
Sharni Vinson (YOU'RE NEXT) stars as gentle nurse Kathy, who takes a job at a creepy old facility that looks like it was designed by Boris Karloff tending to comatose patients. The facility is run by the ominous Dr. Roget (Charles Dance), who keeps everyone at arms length, including his own daughter (Rachel Griffiths), who is the similarly ominous head nurse. Kathy, of course, should head right out the door as soon as she steps into this joint, but a tender sympathy for the patients and a recent break-up keeps her determined to make a difference, especially since no one else seems to care much about their jobs. Dr. Roget's key patient is Patrick (Jackson Gallagher), who is basically an open-eyed vegetable after suffering through a mysterious trauma years past. Kathy seems drawn to the young man (could be because he's pretty good looking and nearly naked), but is halted at any attempt to connect with him by the rigid doctor and nurses.
Patrick, for his part, is pretty drawn to Kathy too. After some initial contact on her part, Patrick begins to communicate, first by spitting (yes, spitting), but gradually through means that suggest he's not a mere vegetable. For instance, he's able to type on a computer screen simply by using his mind; the next thing you know, he's conjuring himself in ghostly form via astral projection. Patrick has telekinesis, you see, and an unhealthy habit of entering people's minds and forcing them to do things they don't want to do. This is a handy skill when you're trying to get the nurse you're sweet on to focus her attentions on you; Patrick forces her male suitors to act like jackasses initially, but soon they're harming themselves while Kathy slowly but surely realizes her odd little crush has unleashed a full-blown psychic monster.
Hartley does well not to take this admittedly silly story very seriously, punctuating every scene with haunted house ambience and loud scares - PATRICK might have more jump scares per sequence than any recent competitor I can think of. But it's this fun spirit that draws you into the film, which might have resembled a supernatural soap opera if played straight. With his go-for-broke attitude, Hartley elevates PATRICK into a sort of gothic dark comedy, with most sequences aiming for both chills and laughs. Surely it's not easy to take a movie like this seriously when there's a sequence involving patients, controlled by Patrick, begin announcing to Kathy that "Patrick would like his hand job now." (I believe this is also in the original film, but it can't possibly be as insane as it is here.)
Kudos definitely go out to the teams behind PATRICK's production design and overall aesthetic; the film looks great. In fact, it often resembles a 1940s horror movie brought into the modern age. The cast too is up to the ghoulish task of making PATRICK come to life, with Dance especially good as the villainous doctor who thinks every body - comatose or otherwise - is his to tool around. Vinson is once again an engaging female lead; if not quite making as memorable of an impression as she did in YOU'RE NEXT, she still elicits sympathy and compassion from the viewer as her character comes to terms with the nightmare scenario she's involved in.
If there's a fault to PATRICK, it's that you can't claim that it's actually scary or effective in any meaningful way. It's amusing, yes, but it doesn't cling to your mind or make an impression outside of the initial giggles and cheap frights. That's okay, not every movie has to pack a powerhouse punch, but walking away from PATRICK you're more likely to shake your head in bemusement than shudder in fear.