Posted August 21, 2012 by David Watson in Films
 
 

The Aggression Scale


You’ve seen classic ‘90s family flick Home Alone, right?

aggression scale: (noun) a
psychological test measuring the frequency of overt aggressive behaviors that
may result in physical or psychological injury to others

You’ve seen classic ‘90s family flick Home Alone, right? The
treacly, heartwarmingly sickening tale of young, wisecracking, obnoxious brat
Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) forced to
battle to protect his privileged family’s palatial home from two inept burglars
(Joe Pesci & Daniel Stern) after
Mom and Pop fly to Paris for Christmas without him, displaying the kind of
parenting skills that, if your surname is McCann, will get you an audience with
the Pope.

Using household objects (paint cans, marbles, a blowtorch) and
ingenuity, Kevin constructs elaborate traps in order to gain the upper hand on
the baddies. The violence is
gleeful, sadistic and, for the most part, consequence free; Stern and Pesci
just keep picking themselves up after getting hit by paint cans and irons,
slipping on icy stairs, stepping on pointy nails. It’s like they’re eager for
punishment. But wait just a
minute. Yes, it’s a film and yes,
the violence is cartoonish, but you take a paint can to the face in real life,
you ain’t walking away from that.
And for two ruthless, professional criminals, Stern and Pesci are
strangely willing to take a lot of shit from our precocious little hero rather
than just say, taking the top of his
goddamn head off with a sawn-off
like any self-respecting home
invader. How cool would that have
been? Or if Kevin had impaled them
with sharpened sticks like the Viet Cong.
That would’ve been so cool! Which brings us to The Aggression Scale.
Already described as “Home Alone
on crack,” The Aggression Scale is a
lot closer to Straw Dogs on Ritalin.

When newlyweds Bill (Boyd Kestner)
and Maggie (Lisa Rotundi) move to
the country to start an idyllic new life, they’re joined by Maggie’s precocious
daughter Lauren (Fabienne Therese)
and Bill’s mute son Owen (Ryan Hartwig). Lauren’s far from happy about leaving
the city and her friends behind or the fact that Mom’s remarried and she’s suddenly
got an instant little brother. And
Owen…well, Owen just plain doesn’t talk.
Things are awkward; it’s going to take this new family time to adjust,
to settle down, to get used to each other.

Which is just about the time a gang of hired killers in the employ of
convicted mob boss Mr Bellavance (Ray
Wise
) bursts into the house, blows Maggie’s face off and starts asking Bill
some very uncomfortable questions.
Someone has stolen a half million dollars of Mr Bellavance’s money,
money he needs to skip the country, and his right hand man Lloyd (Dana Ashbrook) has been tasked with
finding it and ensuring the thieves (and their families) come to a “loud and messy”
end.

Unfortunately, Lloyd and his crew are about to meet Owen who’s been
having a few behavioural problems…

Brutal, intense and crowd-pleasingly nasty, The Aggression Scale is a rough gem of a film that wears its
exploitation credentials proudly tattooed to its chest. From the first scene where a jogger
jogs through her neighbourhood, past some pre-schoolers playing on the lawn
next door, opens her front door and is blown through the air by a fatal shotgun
blast to the chest in front of the startled kids, you know all bets are off,
that this is a film where anyone is fair game.

The violence is harsh and raw, with cult movie crowd favourite Derek Mears soaking up the worst of the
punishment as one of Lloyd’s henchmen.
The cat-and-mouse games Owen and Lloyd play are ferocious and
unpredictable; the story itself may offer nothing new but the perspective is
fresh, the script is tight and the direction is edge of the seat exciting. Director Steven Miller keeps it simple,
opening literally with a bang as Lloyd and his crew of Average Joe working
stiffs (they even wear overalls and work boots; a job is a job after all)
execute our jogger and anyone else with access to Bellavance’s nest egg before
changing gears, slowing down and switching to our mildly dysfunctional family,
spending about 20 minutes allowing us to get to know them before Lloyd and his
boys blunder in and Owen opens up a can of carnage.

The performances are excellent and there’s a nice chemistry between
Fabienne Therese’s sullen Lauren and Ryan Hartwig’s scary, intense Owen whose
mute anti-hero is closer to Mads
Mikkelson
’s Viking warrior in Valhalla
Rising
than it is to Macaulay Culkin.
In any other film, Owen would be the bad guy. Derek Mears elicits grim laughs as Lloyd’s put-upon sidekick
and it’s great too to see Dana Ashbrook (here reunited with fellow Twin Peaks
alumnus Ray Wise) back on our screens as the smooth Lloyd.

Slick, intense and refreshingly nasty, The Aggression Scale is a
black-hearted slice of ultra-violent mayhem.


David Watson

 
David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email: david.watson@filmjuice.com