If Steven KastrissiosThe Horseman teaches us anything, it is that revenge is a hell of a thing. Not exactly a mind-blowing insight, but not a false one either. Kastrissios’ film doesn’t examine the emotional toll that violent retribution takes on a man’s soul; nor does it ask us to question the motives of our score-settling anti-hero. What it does is deliver relentless, unrepentant brutality – and it does it very well.

Peter Marshall stars as Christian, an exterminator whose daughter has been found dead of a heroin overdose. He’s informed that she wasn’t alone when she died, but the police have no idea who could have been with her when she took her fatal hit. The grieving father is offered another slap in the face when he is sent a sex tape starring his daughter, shot mere hours before her death. So begins Christian’s quest to locate the amateur pornographers (supposedly) responsible for her death, and serve up a healthy heaping of ball-busting (literally) vengeance.

First-time director /writer/producer/editor Kastrissios’ has a steady hand on the driving wheel, squeezing every ounce of tension from the film’s numerous gut-churning set pieces. His cast is game, from the spectacularly dedicated Marshall, to the subtle Caroline Marohasy (as a young teenage drifter who witnesses Christian’s few remaining moments of humanity). The result is a thrilling, home-grown version of Taken – albeit a far ballsier and more brutal one. And there’s nothing wrong with that. However, The Horseman could have been so much more.

I’m reminded of another recent Aussie flick – Lake Mungo – which also featured parents with a recently deceased daughter. In that film, the mother and father of teenage Alice were plagued with guilt for not knowing their daughter better. After attempting to discover more about her final days, they learnt that Alice had been doomed to face harrowing psychological (and perhaps even paranormal) torment alone. The “villains” in Lake Mungo go unpunished, and the parents are left to deal with their remorse. Aside from being a truly terrifying thriller, Lake Mungo is a devastating family drama in which the answers sought by the parents lead only to more mystifying questions, and ultimately, force them to consider their own culpability in young Alice’s death. The Horseman has no such subtext. Christian is never given the opportunity to feel guilt. Not only are his “villains” easily identifiable and locatable, they are unequivocally villainous. When the antagonists are this evil – the big bad in this film is an unapologetic rapist who kills for no good reason – the protagonist need not feel a shred of guilt. And what can we possibly learn about a revenge-seeking hero who doesn’t feel guilt?

You may scoff, but I believe movies that delve into the desire for vengeance say more about human nature than perhaps any other kind of film. In fact, the way we watch revenge films – hooting and hollering like Nazis at a screening of Stolz der Nation – offers a terrifying insight into our not-so-latent bloodlust for those that have done us wrong. Pictures like Oldboy, Irreversible and Inglourious Basterds challenge us; force us to consider the implications of settling scores; make us question our allegiances to anti-heroes with a Death Wish. At no point does Kastrissios turn the camera back on us and ask us to question Christian’s actions – and considering he’s a mass murderer, we really should.

But, these complaints are merely what keep The Horseman from being a great film. As it stands, it is a very good one. It offers better performances than you usually find in a bloodthirsty flick such as this, and heralds the debut of an exciting new filmmaker. The Horseman is for those who like their revenge films unburdened by emotional complexity and filled with devastating violence.