Loop Track (2023) Movie Review – Tense Thriller from New Zealand

Horror, Thriller | 94 Min
The cover from New Zealand horror thriller Loop Track from 2023.
  • Director: Thomas Sainsbury
  • Actors: Thomas Sainsbury, Hayden J. Weal, Tawanda Manyimo, Kate Simmonds, Noa Campbell
  • Writers: Thomas Sainsbury
  • Producers: Gabriel Lunte, Jonathan Potton, Milon Tesiram
  • Country: New Zealand
  • Language: English
  • Parental: Language, Violence, Gore
  • Horror, Thriller | 94 Min

A four-day journey turns into a fight for survival. This is a psychological thriller about Ian who wants to get as far away from humanity as possible into the New Zealand bush. Some other individuals get attached to him. And he has the feeling that they are being followed. Is that real though?

Welcome to Knockout Horror. We are checking out some sunny movies this month to escape the January winter blues. We are also using this as an opportunity to catch up on a few movies we missed over the past couple of years. One of those is the film we are looking at today. New Zealand horror, thriller, Loop Track from 2023. Let’s head into the sunbathed Kiwi forests. 

Loop Track is a little bit of an “against type” movie for writer, director and star Thomas Sainsbury (Guns Akimbo). Who is more well known as a comedian than a serious actor. While this movie does have some subtle comedy trappings. It’s far more of a serious thriller. But the surprising thing is that it works really well. This is a tight little thrill ride that manages a hell of a lot of tension for much of its length.

I know this movie raises a few questions and leaves a lot of people feeling a bit short changed. So I do my best to explain the ending to Loop Track in this article that you should definitely check out if you feel you need answers. My reviews are spoiler free but my ending explained articles, obviously, aren’t so keep that in mind.

Character Driven Thriller

Before we start I am going to suggest that you avoid the trailer for this movie. I haven’t included it here and you should avoid it because it is full of spoilers. Loop Track follows the story of Ian (Thomas Sainsbury). A socially awkward man escaping his life and, seemingly, leaving it all behind.

Keen to avoid arousing suspicion and hoping to avoid interacting with people. He heads up a hiking trail alone on the way to nowhere. It isn’t long before a fellow hiker, Nicky (Hayden J. Weal) catches up to him and, despite Ian’s objections, forms a twosome. The pair later meet with an Australian couple hiking the trail and together they form a group. Little does the group realise that Ian’s paranoia and constant concerns belie the true horror that awaits them.

A screenshot from New Zealand horror thriller Loop Track from 2023.

What starts as a somewhat vague character driven tale about a nervous man on the run from his daily responsibilities. Quickly turns into a paranoid and antsy game of “watch the shadows” as our group trek through the gorgeous forests of New Zealand. It’s genuinely enjoyable stuff and thoroughly tense throughout. The questions surrounding Ian’s bizarre behaviour and the constant lack of trust he displays keeps things on edge right from the start. 

A Nervous Man

It is Ian’s paranoia that is the main driving force for the movie’s more thrilling elements. We are never quite sure of what it is he thinks he sees and never quite sure of whether his paranoia is a result of his ailing mental health. Whatever it is, he is sure that he sees something following them and he is experiencing tremendous fear as a result. We, the viewer, see only shadows and vague ones at that. But we know that Ian is seeing something at practically every turn.

A screenshot from New Zealand horror thriller Loop Track from 2023.

Ian’s fellow hikers play something of a foil to his consistently wound up nature. With Nicky’s braggadocios behaviour offering up a ton of laughs and adding to the somewhat odd couple nature of their pairing. The group are reluctant to believe Ian and the viewer is placed among them as a casual observer. We can’t be sure that Ian is actually seeing anything of note and we are lead to be equally as distrusting of him as the rest of the hikers. It’s a fascinating dynamic that pays off in something of a surprising way.

An Unexpected Conclusion

To say that this is a difficult movie to talk about without spoiling anything would be an understatement. Even properly categorising the movie would lead to something of a spoiler. But I think it is safe to say that things don’t really play out in a way that many will expect. Thomas Sainsbury does a nice job of leading the viewer down one path before suddenly taking them down another.

A screenshot from New Zealand horror thriller Loop Track from 2023.

I doubt that a large percentage of the audience will accurately predict the direction the movie goes in. And many might be surprised purely by how seriously the topic in question is handled. There aren’t a great deal of movies like Loop Track that approach the subject matter from a very character centric perspective. Loop Track feels extremely different to its genre brethren and it deserves commending for that.

Will Piss Some Viewers Off

The fact that Loop Track manages to pull the wool over the viewer’s eyes for a decent portion of the movie is kind of surprising. Much of that is achieved through the ambiguity of Ian’s personal situation. We just don’t know that much about him and we have little to no idea about his motivations. Why is he here? What happened to him? Why is he so nervous? 

A screenshot from New Zealand horror thriller Loop Track from 2023.

Unfortunately, this is where Loop Track stumbles a little. It never really manages to address any of these questions. Ian is just the way he is and there isn’t any exposition beyond a few sentences. This won’t be a problem for some and the story doesn’t really end up depending on us knowing these things. But, for many, they will watch the credits roll feeling thoroughly unsatisfied.

There are a lot of question marks here and the characters can feel poorly fleshed out. Ian in particular. When you ask a viewing audience to invest into a character. They are going to expect to have that character’s nature and tendencies elaborated on. Something which Sainsbury goes to very little effort to do. It’s not a major issue for me but, for some people, it will leave a bitter taste in their mouths. 

Well Acted 

Acting is pretty decent throughout. Thomas Sainsbury not only writes and directs but also stars as Ian in a performance that deserves plenty of praise. An argument could be made that he over eggs the performance a little. Leaning a bit too much into Ian’s nervousness and creating an almost cartoon like interpretation of the character. But he is generally really decent and rarely slips up. Hayden J. Weal is great fun as Nicky. Getting plenty of laughs and bringing a great deal of levity to the movie. Everyone else is solid, as well. 

A screenshot from New Zealand horror thriller Loop Track from 2023.

Direction is fantastic. There are some brilliant shots of the forest. There is fantastic usage of lighting to increase tension and the pacing is extremely tight. Rarely letting up and keeping the viewer engaged throughout. Sainsbury has managed to craft a really effective thriller that keeps you guessing. The reveal at the end is going to leave a few people disappointed. It’s a bit of a weird choice all things considered. But I think it works pretty well all things considered. I might have preferred a more psychological horror based outcome but it is what it is.

Final Thoughts and Score

Loop Track is a well directed and well acted horror thriller than stays tense throughout and ends in a somewhat unexpected way. Funny in parts and consistently engaging. I enjoyed this movie way more than I expected to. It’s going to piss some people off. Either with the late movie reveal or with the significant questions it leaves unanswered. But if you can push that to one side this is a fantastic hidden gem that punches way above its weight.

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