A walk in the woods tends to spell trouble for horror movie characters, and Loop Track is no exception to this unspoken genre rule. However, despite its overused setup, Tom Sainsbury‘s directorial debut — a long feature seven years in the making — manages to feel fresh. Its innovation doesn’t so much lie in the story but rather the smart execution. Sainsbury takes an admirably deliberate approach to a conventional idea, all the while delivering a rewarding conclusion that will validate many folks’ fear of nature.
From start to finish, Loop Track is a tale fraught with anxiety and paranoia. Sainsbury plays his movie’s own main character, Ian, and his insight into this nervous fellow makes for a convincing performance. Viewers don’t have to wait long before Ian’s creeping terror begins; upon his first step into the forest, it’s clear something isn’t right here. The steady uneasiness about Ian virtually pours out of the screen, making it impossible to ever catch any relief. Even as Ian runs into other hikers, his agitation doesn’t let up. If anything, it worsens when in the presence of calmer company.
For what seems like the longest time, Ian’s behavior goes unexplained. His constant state of edginess takes a toll on the audience, who is likely not as patient as Ian’s three companions. Nicky (Hayden J. Weal) is more of an outdoors novice than he cares to admit, and newlyweds Austin and Monica (Tawanda Manyimo and Kate Simmonds) have a tendency to mince their words in an attempt to keep situations light and detached. Nevertheless, these strangers can’t be blamed for how they act around Ian. He claims they’re being followed and watched at several points, but considering how perpetual his worry has become, Nicky and the others don’t know if they should believe him. Viewers will be conflicted as well as they go back and forth between these characters. In the end, though, they should be like Ian and trust their instincts.
Loop Track comes across as completely serious, yet there are welcome bits of sly humor to help make the grave parts tolerable. Nicky, whose inexperience is evident to everyone but himself, acts as a comic foil whenever Ian is unbearably solemn. Ian is practically begging for someone to break the tension. Monica’s mild case of self-centeredness is also amusing and serves as a fine contrast. The cast here is indeed small and intimate, but each character is distinct, not to mention conducive to a story all about an individual’s growing discomfort around others. Ian’s agitation wouldn’t be as persuasive if everyone was like him and walked around with their dread on open display.
It’s recommended to go into Loop Track with no certain idea what it’s about, apart from hikers finding themselves in peril. Just trust that this piece of homegrown New Zealand horror is ultimately unique and creative contrary to appearances and expectations. The attractive natural scenery of the kiwi bush hides a terrifying secret that is best discovered on one’s own.
Loop Track is now available for purchase and rent at Digital retailers.
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