10:13 PM | Reviews, The Aggression Scale with 0 comments »
The Aggression Scale is a test used when psychoanalyzing someone to score how aggressive they are (imagine that), if they are prone to violence, and if they are a danger to themselves or others. You rate how much you identify with statements like “I may hit someone if he or she provokes me, I do not trust strangers who are too friendly, and “At times I feel like a bomb ready to explode.” I took the questionnaire, and it turns out that they would consider me “moderately dangerous.” Huh. I always thought of myself as the nonviolent type. Interesting. I guess it’s a good thing they didn’t include statements like “I curse at the screen when a movie that starts out great fizzles out during the second half” or “Shaky cam and spastic editing during action sequences makes me want to physically attack my TV.” If I had to answer those, they just might want to send the ol’ SOC to a padded cell.
Synopsis: When out-on-bail mob boss Bellavance (Ray Wise of “Reaper”) discovers that $500,000 of his money is missing, he sends four hardcore hit men (including Dana Ashbrook of “Twin Peaks” and Derek Mears of “Friday the 13th”) to send a “loud and messy” message to the suspected thieves’ families. But when the killers invade the Rutledge home, they’ll meet the household’s emotionally disturbed young son Owen (Ryan Hartwig). Owen has a history of violent behavior, knows how to make lethal booby-traps and is about to teach these thugs some deadly lessons in extreme vengeance. Fabianne Therese co-stars in the savage thriller that stunned midnight audiences at the 2012 SXSW Film Festival and IndieWire called “like Home Alone with more death!”
Before I tell you how a movie with a can’t-miss premise like “Home Alone if Macaulay Culkin was a psychotic little Rambo” can somehow manage to NOT kick 17 different varieties of ass, lets talk about what they did right with this flick. It’s actually got a lot going for it. First of all, we’ve got the acting. Now, there were weak links, but a few performances were really good, and one was outstanding. Mentioning that Ray Wise was awesome would be like reviewing Prometheus and pointing out that Charlize Theron looked hot. It kinda goes without saying. The actor and actresses playing The McAllist…I mean Rutledge family did a decent job, but the best performance by far out of the Rutledge clan was Ryan Hartwig as Owen. Emoting, engaging the audience, and telling a story without speaking is a skill a lot of seasoned veterans cant pull off, but I’ll be damned if junior doesn’t do a fine job of it here. The kid’s got chops. The less said about the performances of hit men 1 and 2 (yeah, they probably had names, but I’m feeling lazy tonight) the better. I’ll leave it at that. I enjoyed Derek Mears as hit man #3, and I wish his role had been bigger. Ever since I met the actor best known for his mute monsters at Days of the Dead, I’ve wanted to see him in an actual acting role. He participates in comedy sports too. For those who aren’t familiar, think Who’s Line is it Anyway? That means the dude can actually act. Alas, he’s another tough guy in this film, and I’d like to see him as something else, but he gives us a glimpse of his skills here.
If there is one single thing that really carries this flick, it’s the tour de force performance of Dana Ashbrook as Lloyd, the leader of the hit men. Holy crap, where has this dude been hiding since Twin Peaks? His hardass, no-nonsense criminal persona is shoulder to shoulder with some of the best crime film heavies of all time. Yes, it’s that good. Ashbrook is 100% committed to the role, and his screen presence is absolutely electric. He rules the screen without chewing the scenery. If I were going to recommend this flick based on one thing, that performance would be it. I just added Dana to my “watch for upcoming projects” list.
I dug the way most of the characters were handled too. The “newly mixed” family dynamic came across well, and we were given just the right amount of time to get to know the Rutledges before the action began. Lloyd never had that “moment of humanity” that we often see in flicks like this. He was cold and ice and mean as hell the whole time. I was SO afraid that they were going to have Owen suddenly break his silence and do the Silent Bob moment, but they didn’t. Thank god they resisted the temptation to bring the cheese. Don’t get me wrong, I like cheese, but only in the right setting, and this wasn’t it. Besides, there would be other cheesy, cliché moments for dear ‘lil Owen.
I have a couple of major problems with this flick. Throughout the setup, we find out that Owen has recently been released from a mental institution, he’s on “medication,” and he reads books about booby traps, survival, guns, etc. He’s a disturbed little freak. Then, when it’s time for him to take on the bad guys, things just don’t go far enough. What we get is the remnants of the family, Owen included, fighting for survival against the hit men. Lets go back to the Home Alone comparison for a minute. If the second half of that movie had been Kevin desperately running from The Wet Bandits while striking back here and there, it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun. Kevin had the robbers at his mercy. He was in total control, busting them up at will. That’s what I wanted to see here. The setup screams that when the tables turn, the hit men are going to be fighting to survive Owen, not the other way around. The problem is, the tables never really turn. Owen never really goes on the offence. I wanted to see four terrified criminals being toyed with and violently dispatched by a preteen psychopath. Instead what we got was your standard “home invasion where the victims fight back” flick. We’ve seen that over and over. They had the chance to do something truly unique, and they only went halfway with it.
As far as the violence goes, it is here. Exacto knife blades in the hands, stabbing, household cleaner attack, sharpened jacks…wait, sharpened jacks? That’s pretty cool. I’ve always thought caltrops were underused in movies. Anyway, not to be a sado-necro-zoophile here, but the Home Alone comparison rears its ugly head once more. Basically everything Owen devises is a Kevin style trap, just deadly. It would have been a lot more effective had he actually shown us a truly sadistic side. I know what you’re saying; “Nathan, you’re just a gorehound and you always want more violence.” Well, not necessarily ALWAYS, but here it would have done a world of good to distinguish this from other home invasion flicks. The action scenes and set-pieces are obviously what the flick is leading up to, but they were too tame to have the impact they could have.
Speaking of the action sequences and set-pieces, they were completely ruined by that cancer that is eating at the core of modern horror – wobble-cam and spastic editing. Any time anything remotely “action” oriented happens, the camera is bobbing and weaving like a drunk and the editing becomes seizure inducing. Sometimes it’s hard to even tell what the hell is going on. No, it doesn’t add to the franticness of the action, as proponents of this style would argue. If you can’t make the action frenetic enough without resorting to these cheap, annoying, overused techniques (or lack thereof), then perhaps you don’t know how to properly construct an action sequence. The sad thing is, though, from what I could tell they weren’t badly staged. I long for the day when it becomes stylish to use motivated, fluid camera movement again. Sadly, people have become so accustomed to this shooting style that no other review I’ve seen has even mentioned it. That’s cool; I’ll be the lone voice crying out in the wilderness. There are a couple of cool moments and interesting shots in the flick, so I can’t give it a full on fail, but due to the shaky cam, the cinematography gets a solid D-.
One last thing, I think it’s time to stop using the plot device where a character sticks something in their shirt or jacket, gets shot, but is saved when the bullet hits whatever it was they stuck in their jacket. Come on guys, can we just let that played out old chestnut die already?
What we have here is a great premise, some great acting, a decent script, and a disappointing, badly executed middle/end. It kinda makes me fear for the Silent Night Deadly Night remake, which Steven C. Miller is also directing. Then again, this flick has gotten mostly high marks from the horror blogosphere. Am I just a jaded sicko for not thinking the flick was intense enough? Am I being too much of a cinema purist when I insist on skill over gimmicks in the camerawork? I guess you’ll just have to watch for yourself and decide.
One severed thumb up. Nathan says check it out to watch Dana Ashbrook tear it up.