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Loop Track (2023) Review

Best known as a comedian Thomas Sainsbury (Wellington Paranormal, Guns Akimbo) tries his hand at something different with Loop Track, a mostly serious wilderness horror film set in New Zealand’s Waitākere Ranges.

Ian (Thomas Sainsbury) is a troubled man. We don’t know what’s troubling him, but it’s clear from the moment we see him that something has him stirred up. He’s twitchy, ignoring a string of phone calls, and once he’s parked nearly jumps through the car’s roof when somebody approaches it. Then, once he sets out on the hiking trail, he does his best to avoid other hikers, even detouring through the brush to go around a couple.

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Despite that, he still ends up encountering the extremely chatty and obsessively friendly Nicky (Hayden J Weal, Getting Toasted, Dead) whom he can’t get rid of. Stopping for the night at a trail hut they find themselves sharing it with honeymooners Monica (Kate Simmonds, The Adventures of Suzy Boon, Time Terminal) and Austin (Tawanda Manyimo, The Meg, Ghost in the Shell).

From the start, Sainsbury gives us the mystery of what has Ian so riddled with anxiety and deliberately ignoring phone calls. He mentions that he had his own business, could that be it? He also says he was married, maybe it’s emotional rather than financial. But whatever it is, he’s wound up to the point he can’t sleep even after a day’s hike. He also starts thinking he sees someone, or something, lurking in the forest.

This film originated with a single image—someone on an isolated bush walk seeing a figure in the far distance. They can’t make out exactly what they’re looking at, but the figure’s presence feels malevolent.

Tom Sainsbury

Of course, it’s entirely possible that his mental condition and lack of sleep have him paranoid and seeing things. Or possibly he’s losing touch with reality and he is a threat to the others. On the other hand, when they reach the next hut there are packs already there, but no hikers. Perhaps there is something out there and it got them.

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Loop Track gets great mileage out of going back and forth between the idea that there is a threat out there and suggesting it’s all in Ian’s mind. At one point he finds suspicious photos on a camera, but later, when he goes to show the others, they’re gone. Did he hallucinate them, or were they erased? And if so, by who and why?

It’s not until the final act that Loop Track tips its hand and then goes spectacularly, and rather bloodily, mental in the final twenty or so minutes. It’s certainly a what the fuck was that moment, but it’s not entirely out of left field either. There is a clue dropped along the way, although it’s not a very obvious one. Either way, the last act is an excellent, fast-paced payoff for the tense but slow burning first hour.

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Loop Track was a passion project for Sainsbury, and he’s done well by it. It’s frequently creepy, with just the occasional touch of dark humour. The small cast are all excellent, and Milon Tesiram (Sui Generis, Demon Cove) makes the deep woods look as menacing as possible. This is topped off by the effects crew which does an outstanding job of realizing the menace when it’s revealed. A fun watch that will keep you guessing until the last few moments, Loop Track is an early Christmas present for horror fans.

Already released to excellent reviews in its native New Zealand and on the festival circuit, Dark Sky Films will release Loop Track to VOD and Digital Platforms on December 1st.

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