Three teenagers discover a body in the woods not too far from their homes. On top of that, they catch a glimpse of the killer. Should they go to the cops? They could…or maybe they could blackmail the killer into killing someone for them…
Such is the hook of indie flick Acolytes, a low-budget Australian effort that manages to entertain throughout, courtesy of regular plot twists, without ever quite igniting to attain greatness.
Director Jon Hewitt assuredly guides a cast – particularly its three neophyte leads in Sebastian Gregory, Holly Baldwin and Joshua Payne – through a story that is identifiably small town Australian. This is the back suburbs of Queensland where, the movie argues, there is an underbelly as seedy as any.
Most facets of Acolytes are strong. The acting is rock solid and the cinematography is eye-catching, if occasionally distracting in its flashiness. The script holds back secrets until the third act, springing a succession of reveals into what has to that point been a thriller with a measured pace.
Naturally, the killer (a reserved performance by Joel Edgerton that has echoes of John Jarrett in Wolf Creek) does not act quite as the teenagers hoped and they are forced to confront dark acts in their own past. The key problem with Acolytes is that when the reveals come, the emphasis is on surprise rather than a philosophical through-line in the movie. One twist is so left-field that it almost feels like cheating in that there was no character groundwork laid for the sudden shift in one of the leads.
The stylish shooting and often striking composition combine with the low-key tone to elevate Acolytes above the level of the average thriller, but in reaching for one-too-many surprises, the film misses the opportunity to add emotional and cerebral weight behind its tale. Solid, but short of greatness.
A decent selection of extras: an audio commentary, a selection of interviews, a making of called ‘Diary of a Serial Killer: The Making of Acolytes’, deleted scenes, alternate endings and the soundtrack.
Available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.