In between hundreds, even thousands of horror flicks, it's sometimes difficult to stand out. Some try to push the limits by being as gory as possible, others simply remain mediocre and hope for a good cover design to sell their film. Hewitt takes a slightly different approach by adding some solid drama to the mix, taking a pretty big risk. And surprisingly, he pulls it off with flair.
Horror doesn't usually mix well with drama. The actors in horror films are often crap and story elements are so ridiculous any form of seriousness is killed right from the start. The only safe way to make both work together is to start from a strong dramatic base and gradually add small horror elements. Which is exactly how Hewitt goes about constructing Acolytes.
The story centers around two boys and one girl stuck in a typical triangle relationship. When one of the boys runs into a dark figure burying something in the woods, they suspect it might have something to do with the missing girl and go investigating on their own. It's a simple setup, but Hewitt takes his time to focus on the three kids and their somewhat recluse style of life. It isn't until the third half of the film that things get nasty, though sharp editing and strong use of a moody soundtrack set the atmosphere right, early in the film. It keeps the film interesting and at the same time creates some sort of bond between the audience and the three.
Acolytes is one of those films where things are brooding without knowing what is going on exactly. Hewitt seems to have mastered this quite well as he guides the audience through the first half of the film, revealing only very little of the actual plot but keeping the tension ever present. In the final part, things start moving swiftly and the film ventures more and more into horror territory. Hewitt does overreach a bit in the final part as there are one or two surprises too many, but by that time the film is gripping enough to ignore these little hiccups.
Visually Hewitt suppresses most colors. His vision of Australia is empty, dark and grim, featuring many deserted places coated in darkness. The film is stylized but in a very realistic way, as if you're looking at Hewitt's world through a pair of strong sunglasses. The camera work is nice enough, the editing precise and spot on. The visuals are aided by a strong soundtrack which is featured at just the right moments. Even the poppy music coming from the girls earphones is integrated well and doesn't hurt the atmosphere, no matter how bad the music itself might be.
Acting is all around good, though none of the characters are very lovable. The kids cross the line of adorable rascals a couple of times, throwing them into the territory of nihilistic little criminals more than once. The people they are up against are even worse, Edgerton's character being the most charismatic character of them all. The acting won't win any awards, but the solid performances of the whole cast are crucial to the success of the film.
Acolytes could've failed in many ways, but in the end it didn't, which is quite the accomplishment. Mixing horror with drama is a hard thing to do, putting three teenagers in the spotlight to carry the film even harder. But Hewitt's direction is strong, the acting is good and the atmosphere is convincing enough to pull it all off. The ending might be a bit much, but that's easily forgiven seeing how strong the rest of the film is. Australian horror is getting itself noticed, Acolytes might be a good place to start.