Rewind Review: 2008’s ‘Acolytes’

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Acolytes is an Australian Horror movie that elevates stereotypical “Ozploitation” to the level of High Art. Written by Shayne Armstrong and Shane Krausse and directed by Jon Hewitt (X: Night of Vengeance) this film takes the familiar “Teenagers-in-Trouble” premise to disturbing new depths.

Check out my review after the jump.

Official Synopsis:  A tension soaked stalk and chase thriller. In their senior year of high school, James and Mark find a way to stop being the victim, they’re going to kill their nemesis… That is when they stumble upon the serial killer who will do the killing for them. The chase of their lives begins into graves of the killer’s victims…

The introduction to Acolytes, a short sequence that plays out before the opening title, is pretty fucked up—making it clear from the get-go that this will be a very intense experience.

The backstory to Acolytes (told in flashbacks and bits of conversation) is plenty disturbing in its own right—and probably could have been a movie in and of itself.  Years earlier, High School seniors Mark (Sebastian Gregory) and James (Joshua Payne) were the victims of a vicious sexual assault at the hands of local thug Gary Parker (Michael Dorman).  And while they may seem to have put that trauma behind them, we learn throughout the film that Mark and James are still haunted by the encounter—and are anything but well adjusted.

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The story plays out within the volatile context of a teenage love triangle with James’s girlfriend Chasely (Hanna Mangan Lawrence) at the center.  While they get along like three amigos, it is clear that Mark is extremely jealous of his friend’s relationship.  His voyeuristic tendencies, hiding and watching James and Chasely have sex, is the first big indication that Mark is troubled and obsessed.  James seems to revel in his “possession” of Chasely and clearly enjoys rubbing Mark’s nose in it.  Chasely, for her part, does nothing but exasperate the situation, at first passively encouraging Mark’s interest before actively participating in an affair (the full extent of which is never revealed).  In this emotionally charged atmosphere, two male adolescents with a history of sex abuse find themselves drawn into an unbelievably dangerous scenario.  Essentially, a fucked-up past and a fucked-up present set the trio down a path of utter terror.

Blackmailing a serial killer was a stupid idea to begin with, but as we’ve established, Mark and James aren’t the most intelligent or rational kids on the block.  Their impulsive quest for retribution sets off a dangerous game of cat and mouse that sees their troubles multiply exponentially.  The teens are quickly toppled from what they assume is a position of power, thrust into a situation that leaves them vulnerable and with little recourse.  Throughout the film, sympathy for the teenagers is tempered by dark revelations regarding their true selves.  While we never wish them harm, it’s impossible to forget that they brought this situation upon themselves.

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While the actions of serial killer Ian Wright (Joel Edgerton) are violent and deplorable, the real shocks in Acolytes come from the depths of teenagers’ dysfunction (specifically Mark’s). A sub-plot regarding another local missing teen named Tanya (Holly Baldwin) proves to be crucial during the film’s conclusion.  The last 10 minutes of Acolytes are devastating, not so much for the violence portrayed, but because of the revelations that come to light.

Acolytes is more of a thriller than a Horror movie, but it’s still a very heavy experience.  Anyone with a history of abuse (male or female) may find themselves averse to this film. The presentation is a bit muddled at times, but the film succeeds in no small part due to the incredible acting of the young cast.  Aficionados and fans of Australian Horror will be especially pleased.

3.5 out of 5 Skull Heads.

Trailer: HERE

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Directed by Jon Hewitt
Written by Shayne Armstrong
Shane Krausse
Starring Joel Edgerton
Michael Dorman
Sebastian Gregory
Hanna Mangan-Lawrence
Joshua Payne
Belinda McClory
Music by Midnight Juggernauts
Release dates
  • 1 August 2008
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About Saucy Josh

I write a blog for intelligent Horror movie aficionados called Blood and Guts for Grown Ups: https://bloodandgutsforgrownups.wordpress.com/ View all posts by Saucy Josh

One response to “Rewind Review: 2008’s ‘Acolytes’

  • Laura O

    I saw this a while back and never got around to writing it up. I thought it was surprisngly good (for one I found on lovefilm streaming, but had never before heard of). Nice review.

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