Loop Track takes time to reach its destination, but the path leading to the film’s conclusion is a satisfying surprise.
Thomas Sainsbury showcases his multifaceted talent, taking on the roles of director, and leading actor in Loop Track. Originating from New Zealand, his latest project, which he also wrote, is one of 2023’s hidden gems, orchestrating an immersive journey that seamlessly combines a psychological thriller with spine-chilling horror elements and dashes of humor. Blurring the lines between reality and fantasy, the film presents an intense sense of unease throughout, leaving viewers teetering on the edge of uncertainty until the final, mind-blowing revelation.
From the get-go, Loop Track entices as viewers meet Ian, a panic-stricken man seeking refuge in the wild, as he embarks on a brief hiking retreat. Amidst a vast number of missed calls on his phone, hinting at a troubling situation Ian may have left behind, he witnesses seemingly unreal occurrences that appear to be a figment of his imagination.
When Ian finally sets off on the trails, he avoids interactions with other hikers until he crosses paths with Nicky (Hayden J. Weal), a persistent trekker who insists the pair travel together. Soon after, they meet Austin (Tawanda Manyimo) and Monica (Kate Simmonds), a couple visiting from Australia, whom Ian tried to avoid earlier in the day. As the foursome spends more time together, Ian’s increasing paranoia becomes more prevalent among his newly acquired acquaintances. He’s convinced that someone is stalking the group of four, and he spots figures in the woods unnoticed by others. Every sound puts him on edge, and Ian even accuses a fellow group member of a heinous act involving other hikers. As the story unfolds, Ian’s detached nature and tense demeanor raise many questions that deepen the mystery and make the film all the more alluring.
Though Loop Track comprises a small cast, each character leaves a distinct mark on the story. Hayden J. Weal shines as Nicky, delivering a delightful mix of charm, hospitality, and unexpected humor to the role. Instead of distracting from the film’s dreaded tone, these moments give viewers some lighthearted breaks from Ian’s persistent tension over the feature’s 96-minute runtime. Similarly, Austin and Monica offer unwavering support, regardless of Ian’s extreme trepidation.
The film’s standout is undeniably Sainsbury, who is sensational as Ian. As a viewer, you can’t help but sympathize with him because of the internalized turmoil he’s facing. Yet, the lack of context pertaining to his personal life heightens the intrigue and makes viewers wonder if they’re unknowingly rooting for an immoral man. Each moment experienced from the character’s perspective evokes discomfort and creates an unsettling atmosphere, amplified by the wooded setting, an environment as mesmerizing as it is daunting. The feature’s ability to use both the forest and cinematography to convey dread and natural beauty is truly remarkable, elevating the viewing experience alongside the film’s gripping narrative.
Though many thriller/horror films set in the woods follow a similar, predictable premise, what sets Loop Track apart is its ability to present unforeseeable, mind-bending antics that keep the audience questioning whether Ian’s paranoia is imagined or if his feelings are valid. Just when viewers think they’ve grasped an answer, the feature disrupts expectations and pulls the rug out from beneath, presenting yet another incident that will shift one’s perspective completely.
Loop Track’s biggest downside is inconsistent pacing. The film’s first 60 minutes unfold gradually, only to kick into overdrive during the third act. The result is a hurried climax that, though unpredictable and impressive, may have benefited from some extra minutes dedicated to the feature’s conclusion. In addition, Loop Track may create frustration among some viewers due to unanswered questions concerning Ian’s background. That said, this ambiguity appears intentional. Clarifying every detail would have stripped away the mystery built around Ian, and the film’s purposeful, vague approach only adds to the film’s effectiveness.
Overall, Loop Track is an unexpected, impactful thriller that I would recommend watching. Credit must be given to the cast and crew for creating such an engrossing feature on a minimal budget. The film not only balances genres effortlessly but is well-acted, successfully utilizes its setting, and is equipped with a satisfying conclusion that viewers won’t see coming.
Loop Track will be released on digital platforms on December 1, 2023.