Judge Daryl Loomis runs about an eleven on the passive-aggressive scale.
We've got to do something about that kid.
Home invasion movies are a weird genre. Whether they're good or bad, they're always really serious, never very much fun to watch and, sometimes, as in the case of Funny Games, they just turn out to be some kind of mean joke the director is playing on the audience. On top of it, since things very rarely ends well for anyone involved in the story, I can't even come out of it with a feeling of vindication or closure. They're tough movies, but The Aggression Scale aims to have a little bit of fun with all of that, and mostly hits its mark.
Facts of the Case
Mr. Bellavance (Ray Wise, Reaper), a mobster out on bail, returns to his office to find half a million dollars missing from what he needs to get out of the country. He enlists Lloyd (Dana Ashbrook, Twin Peaks), his most ruthless henchman, to take the boys out and kill everybody who could have had contact with the cash and bring it safely back. Murder after murder results in the heavies tracking down the Rutledge family, who just so happen to be moving into their huge new country home. Inside, though, there is a secret weapon: a weird, silent, survivalist son named Owen (Ryan Hartwig), who will do whatever it takes to defend himself.
Strictly speaking, as an example of the home invasion genre, The Aggression Scale may not work as well as other entries. The genre trappings are just that though, a veneer to get us going before the story breaks down into its big joke. That joke, and it spoils nothing, is on the invaders, because they don't know that this kid is about to completely trounce them. It's a pretty funny bit, too, as it plays out sort of like Home Alone did, although with a whole lot more violence.
Until that starts about halfway through the movie, The Aggression Scale is a pretty hard-edged little thriller and, even after, director Steven C. Miller (Automaton Transfusion) doesn't let up on the tension, viewers will just find themselves chuckling at the events more often. The story itself doesn't present anything that we haven't seen in these movies before, but the way that Miller and screenwriter Ben Powell handle the characters makes all the difference.
Instead of masked, nameless psychopaths, we have bumbling, albeit scary looking fools. There's the Twin Peaks reunion of Dana Andrews and Ray Wise is great, of course (though I'm not sure Bobby Briggs and Leland Palmer ever shared a scene), but the massive Derek Mears (2009's Friday the 13th) is surprisingly good in a comedy role, as well (though given that he plays Kickpuncher on Community, so maybe I shouldn't be so surprised), and almost steals the show. The other two guys have less descript personalities, but they get some pretty good moments themselves.
Presumably, they're effective killers, and at first they dispatch everyone, including the parents, pretty easily (including a particularly ridiculous attempt from mom to block a shotgun blast), but this kid is something else. He's got all the luck and moxie of Kevin McCallister, but with the knowhow and malicious intent of John Haig. He's a force to be reckoned in a body that belongs in a boy band and it's pretty amusing to watch as he works his way through his targets. He does it all silently, too, which eliminates any deficiencies the kid might have in line reading. Fabianne Therese (John Dies at the End) does a reasonably good job as his sister, but she's basically playing straight. It's what she needs to do to make the joke work, but the character is a little bland compared to the others.
Miller doesn't have a lot of directing credits under his belt, but he put together a tight little thriller in The Aggression Scale and the comedy really was a good touch. It keeps things much lighter than I'm used to from home invasion films without being so constant or over the top that it gets in the way of the suspense, which is stretched out pretty well. It's nasty violent at the start and gets progressively funnier as it goes along, but never really gets less violent. The pulsing score by frequent video game composer Kevin Riepl (Gears of War) and the motion-heavy camerawork by Jeff Dolan give it a nice feel; all of it together makes for a pretty enjoyable indie thriller.
The Aggression Scale fares pretty well on Blu-ray from Anchor Bay. It's a fairly cheap movie, and the image quality reflects this in certain ways, but the 2.40:1/1080p transfer is still high quality. Fine facial details are apparent and the forest scenes look perfectly sharp into the back of the frame. Interiors look bright and clean, but black levels aren't as deep as they could be and there is a little bit of sharpness that comes from the source material. The sound is also good, with a punchy Dolby TrueHD surround mix that has crisp, clear dialog and a lot of force on the low end, although there are times when it fuzzes out a little bit. It looks and sounds very good, though. The only extra is a brief, inconsequential making-of featurette.
I went into The Aggression Scale expecting a much harsher time than I got. For those with a darker sense of humor, there are a few solid laughs in the movie and the overall tone is good, violent fun. With a solid-looking Blu-ray, it's a fairly solid recommendation.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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