By Emma Brown

If a video arrived anonymously in the mail featuring your recently deceased loved-one in a horrifying video accompanied with an address to the culprit’s home, what would you do?

This is the premise of The Horseman, the R-rated feature film debut from Steven Kastrissios, based on an idea he fleshed out with the help of his real-life father and girlfriend.

“I designed the characters quite different from the real people, however, I based them on people close to me, as a good hook to get into the story and to keep the script grounded,” he said.

The film has already garnered positive feedback at major international genre festivals such as Frightfest, Fantasia and Sitges and won over fans such as The Haunting in Connecticut's director Peter Cornwell. "It's a really intense gritty film … an amazing achievement for its zero budget," he said.

The revenge thriller was shot on a shoestring budget of around $80,000 and has been sold to most major territories including the US, Germany, Brazil and the UK, where it was shown on more than 30 screens. After boosting the sound and colour grading the film's budget swelled to about $500,000, largely through deferred payments.

“The story of a guy going from house to house, allowed for a low-budget shoot, as we didn’t have to get council permission as it was mainly all shot at an empty house that we just took over,” Kastrissios said.

The violent fight scenes that the film centres around were all designed by Kastrissios in his backyard with stunt coordinator Chris Anderson (King Kong, Mad Max). “If you want to make action, you definitely want to write your own action as this is the fun part,” he said.

The film was shot using two Panasonic AG-HVX202 P2 cameras.

“The choice was either one camera with great rigs of either a 16 or 35mm lens or to use two cameras and sacrifice that nice depth of field,” he said. “With the action and performances and it being a fast shoot it was a better advantage to have two cameras.

The film was dramatically reshaped in the editing process. Two scenes were re-shot after production to break up the bleak experience of the grief stricken protagonist (played by Peter Marshall) on his revenge tirade. “I re- shot him and the girl Caroline as she is the heart of the film and her scenes give you a break from the violence,” Kastrissios said.

The filmmaker, who has been making short films since he was 14, says he found inspiration in the work of directors Michael Mann and Ridley Scott.

“Ridley Scott’s craft is second to none, no one shoots like him,” he said. “It’s hard to get close to that kind of performance with a low budget, but that was my intention to make an action film, yet with grounded action.”

The Horseman will open on July 8 at Sydney’s Chauvel Cinema and in Brisbane at the Tribal Theatre, with Melbourne and other States to follow shortly thereafter.

Peter Marshall in
The Horseman

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