Loop Track (2023)
July 7, 2024 5:41 PM - Subscribe

Ian wants to get as far away from humanity as possible and heads into the New Zealand bush, but a four day journey turns into a fight for survival.

Spoilers below! Fair warning because it's a pretty big one.

I really liked this from the jump -- written, directed by, and starring Thomas Sainsbury, who plays Parker on Wellington Paranormal, an under-recognized (in North America, anyway) NZ comedy spinoff of What We Do In The Shadows.

Parker on Wellington Paranormal is a well-meaning but ineffectual nebbish, and Sainsbury takes that and dials it up a couple more notches here, as our protagonist Ian sets out on a "loop track" (a multi-day hiking trail with sleeping cabins) and winds up travelling with three other hikers -- an overconfident, overequipped enthusiast, and a perfectly nice couple from Australia.

For seventy of its ninety minutes, it's a pretty good Slow Woods Horror tension piece, as Ian becomes increasingly convinced the foursome (and another pair of women they meet on the trail) are being stalked by a shadowy figure, laddering up to an accusation of murder down the trail.

Sainsbury writes/directs/plays Ian so effectively as a neurotic, self-pitying, clearly emotionally fragile stunted weirdo that 2/3 of the movie feels like Ian is self-evidently cracking or already cracked -- he's clearly going to start murdering his travelling companions... or will the twist be that Ian is right and there is another murderer in the woods, either among the foursome or a stranger to them all?

At around the 70-minute mark, Ian and the hypercompetent Nicky go into the bush but only Ian reappears, screaming, and the couple investigate, only to have the woman pulled by something unseen into the bush.

Is this Ian, in a fit of psychotic disassociation? Or an unknown stalker? There are bear traps in the woods -- maybe the New Zealand version of Wrong Turn hellbillies dwell in the forest?


It's birds.

Turns out they are being stalked, but by like giant mean cassowaries: eight-foot prehistoric razor-taloned sharp-beaked carnivorous super-birds that apparently just eat the living shit out of hikers and... nobody has noticed to date. Unless the bear traps were set up for the birds by somebody who chose to tell nobody about the birds, or put up any sort of "hey there's a cracking big bird in these woods" signs.

Which, I mean, uh, okay?

I really don't know what to make of it. It's competently executed, it was a legitimate surprise, but it's such a weird script-flip, with Ian then fighting or fleeing from giant birds for 20+ minutes until he and the film kind of limp out of the woods.

It's well made! Well directed, well acted. I legitimately was pulled into Ian's journey and while the "is the main guy cracking up / cracked up and when is he going to start murdering people" trope is well trodden, it's still enjoyable when well done.

But... it's birds.

I dunno.
posted by Shepherd (3 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Thanks for posting this. What a weird movie. I'm not really sure how to read it, there's a big part of my mind that wonders whether the birds are even there at all, or if they're Ian's post-facto hallucinations and he really did kill all those people himself. His behavior in the first part is definitely super scratchy, like why hide in the woods to spy on that couple? And the first shadowy figure we see (from Ian's perspective) definitely look like a human being, not a giant bird.

Noticed this in the credits: "at least one giant bird thing was harmed during the making of this film." (More misdirection?)
posted by whir at 7:44 PM on July 9

*super sketchy
posted by whir at 7:57 PM on July 9

I just watched this because it's on shudder, and the letterboxd reviews seemed pretty good. I enjoyed it. I get not everyone will, but it worked for me. It kinda reminded me of a story that Spalding Grey told about a young man named Daniel who was volunteering abroad with him. Daniel suddenly suffered from a psychotic break, and they realized he had stopped taking his medication. It's like what if that person in the throes of mental breakdown in an isolated place actually happened to be right this one time. I thought that was a pretty engaging idea.

I also want to say the acting in this went a long way. Sainsbury's dread is truly palpable, and Hayden Weal as Nicky is just bang on as an obnoxious horndog.
posted by miss-lapin at 8:45 PM on July 17

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