Label: Anchor Bay/ Region: A / Released: May 29, 2012
Genre: Crime / Revenge / Suspense / Thriller
Synopsis: Having just moved into their sprawling country house, a family is threatened by thungs wanting stolen mob money.
Special Features: Making-of Featurette
As he admits in the disc’s making-of featurette, director Steven Miller’s film is a hybrid of Home Alone and A History of Violence, somewhat re-aligned from the angle of a child, and while it has a few strong dramatic spikes, the main problems are Ben Powell’s underdeveloped script and an uninteresting central character – teenage ticking time bomb Owen – in need of nuances which actor Ryan Hartwig can’t deliver.
Owen’s background and limited personality – he’s an aggressive child released from a prison-like sanitarium when his father pays off the staff using mob money from a secret account – are kept vague for too long by director Miller, and the delay ensures Owen’s limited character never changes beyond a boost in his ‘aggression scale’ once he’s separated from his controlling meds.
Once Owen’s self-defense streak kicks in, he becomes a fast-acting MacGyver, instinctively taking objects, disassembling tools and, incredibly, having the foresight to sharpen jacks into a mini-minefield of face-poking objects for just the right use in the finale. He’s also super fast in gathering up gunshot-blown money from an expansive dining room before the killer returns, and setting up the perfect booby traps for surviving aggressor Lloyd (Dana Ashbrook), the chief hitman charged with getting back as much of the stolen $500,000 in cash to thug Bellavance (Ray Wise, unofficially reunited with Ashbrook after their appearance on TV’s Twin Peaks) before Lloyd’s 48 hour deadline limits ends with bad consequences.
Powell’s script also seems to take place in a world where there are no modern features like office & garage security cameras, car dealership alarms, and teens with iPhones, and while it’s an interesting conceit, a few instances are so far from reality that the mounting drama in the final act becomes ridiculous.
As a variant on the home invasion thriller, Aggression Scale is a passable B-movie, giving fans a regular dose of splattering gore and sadism, but it also asks audiences to accept a lot of flaws and holes which become increasingly absurd. Miller maintains a good undercurrent of dread, and the suddenness of Lloyd’s quick nods and reactive executions are potently shocking, but there’s also the clichéd marriage between two naïve adults and their bickering step-kids that isn’t unique. Actress Fabianne Therese is strong as older stepsister Lauren, but there’s barely a hint of her personal demons (she’s apparently a cutter); once she’s injured, most of her screen time is spent screaming while running from the killers with non-verbal Owen.
Miller’s use of mundane small city locations are a big plus, as is the massive country house where the killers converge to get their cash and wipe out a seemingly innocent family of four, and composer Kevin Riepl starts the film with a strong grungy theme and scores most of the stalking scenes with industrial, form-fitted cues.
Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray sports a sharp transfer and straightforward 5.1 mix, and the bonus making-of featurette is just the usual on-set footage of cast & crew, with meandering chunks broken up by abrupt fades.
A better variant of offended aggressors tormenting superficial innocents is perhaps William Fruet’s Death Weekend (1976), which strips down the characters to their most primal behaviour and amps up the sadism to one grueling, nihilistic finale.
© 2012 Mark R. Hasan
Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review