Do you like horror films? Australian director Mark Hartley obviously does. His infectious, gleeful enthusiasm for his popular if sometimes critically reviled genre of horror makes this a blood-soaked treat for like-minded fans. Having previously explored the rich if somewhat forgotten back catalogues of Australian exploitation cinema horror in his excellent doco Not Quite Hollywood, he takes the next logical step here, remaking Richard Franklin’s 1978 cult favourite B-movie.
The tagline of the original also serves as a neat plot summary: ‘He’s in a coma…yet, he can kill!’ He is Patrick, a patient who somehow maintains his excellent condition while those around him waste away in a vegetative state in a creepy, isolated hospital. When a young nurse makes a ghoulish discovery that leads to her grisly end, the bright young Kathy ‘Jac’ Jacquard (Sharni Vinson) is recruited to the facility, which is overseen by Dr. Roget (Charles Dance) and his dead-eyed daughter, Matron Cassidy (Rachel Griffiths).
Jac has just broken up with her boyfriend Ed (Damon Gameau) and is seeking a clean break. She soon finds an ally in the spirited Nurse Williams (Peta Sergeant), who fills her in on the shady happenings in the facility, a dimly lit Gothic hellhole. She takes a special interest in Patrick, who Dr Roget has adopted as his special project, administering electro-shock therapy and other techniques not prescribed in any medical journal.
Alarmed at the bizarre experiments and freaked out that the comatose Patrick seems to be able to communicate with her, Jac confides in Brian (Martin Crewes), a former doctor and writer who advises her to report Dr Roget to the authorities and get out of town. But this wouldn’t be a horror film if its hero took the safe option, and as Ed arrives in town to reconcile with Jac, he too gets drawn into the escalating terror wreaked by malevolent forces at the hospital.
Patrick rattles through genre tropes (creaky elevator shafts, dirty-looking syringes, zombie-like patients wandering blackened corridors, moments of silence shattered by a pounding at the door) with an expert’s assurance and a fan’s relish. This is a film that knows exactly what it is, and that recognises that some things are cliches for a reason.
Vinson, last seen in You’re Next (a more nasty and realist film than Patrick) makes for a plucky heroine, while it’s a shame Sergeant’s character fades into the background somewhat as Jac delves further into Patrick’s story. Their performances form part of an impressive film seemingly destined for cultish devotion. While Patrick may not convince the unconverted, horror fans will lap up every minute of its lean, gore-splattered running time.