Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Directed by Brendan Muldowney
Starring Darren Healy, Nora-Jane Noone
Distributed by High Fliers Films
Outside of zombies and creature features, if there’s one particular genre that always has my interest, it’s the revenge flick. That base satisfaction of witnessing the wronged wreaking bloody vengeance against their abusers is, more often than not, just what you need from time to time. Debut writer/director Brendan Muldowney’s Savage initially seems like just such a film, before it evolves into something much more affecting: an earnest, and devastating, study of the psychological effects of victimisation, brutalisation, intimidation, and sheer aggression turned inwards.
Darren Healy stars as freelance photographer Paul Graynor, making a living photographing the base, violent and seedy events unfolding daily on the streets of Dublin. While walking home from a date with his elderly father’s caretaker (the lovely Nora-Jane Noone), Paul is forced into an alleyway, mugged, cut and beaten unconscious by a pair of tracksuited youths. Waking up in the hospital, he discovers that not only have they robbed him of his mental security, but they topped off the event with a bout of head-trauma anaesthetised castration.
From there, Savage follows Paul as he struggles to come to terms with the attack and deal with the severe social anxiety it has left him with. Joining a gym and a martial arts class, Paul eventually shaves his head and begins crunching on steroid substitutes provided him by a gym-going acquaintance, before evolving into a thuggish, knife-wielding nightwalker constantly testing his own mettle in violent situations; all the while his desire for bloody retribution building to a boil. This ultimately leads to a tragic explosion of misguided frustration and extreme brutality.
With the main feature running just under 80 minutes, Savage is a lean and mean beast of a film. Director Muldowney shows an assured, and realist, eye, with some razor-sharp editing and a tight, convincing script at play, the constant narrative flow and investment in character making it a consistently engrossing experience. In this kind of tight-knit narrative, however, the real key is the cast, and every one of the players inhabits their roles perfectly. The youths portraying not only Paul’s attackers but also the gang that hang out near his home dropping verbal abuse and other delightful behaviour are a spot-on reflection of some of the human detritus littering the streets of the UK and Ireland (and the type of burgeoning behaviour that must have directly prompted the creation of the film), while lead Healy is simply astonishing as the tormented Paul. His transformation from the long-haired, bespectacled and meek victim to the scar-faced, thuggish animal he becomes is perfectly jarring; yet, he continues to deliver the nuances of a tortured man seriously in need of the proper help (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is most certainly an undercurrent here) that you can’t help but watch in sheer desperation as you will for something, anything, to stop him on the inevitable path he’s taking. Even minor players, such as the teacher at Paul’s self-defence class, deliver performances so earnest that the film’s grip is inescapable.
If there’s anything to be disliked about Savage, it’s the fact that despite adopting a mainly realist approach the whole affair, it does smack a little too much of social hyperbole. The figurative emasculation of the lead character, having submitted to being the victim of such a street attack, is a factor that could have been tackled less heavy-handedly than actually having his balls being cut off – something which may illicit little more than sniggers from some audiences. Similarly, the image of Paul storming down Dublin streets munching steroid tablets like breath mints feels unnecessarily excessive. For the most part, though, think Harry Brown meets Taxi Driver from an urban Irish standpoint, and you have Savage.
For most of the runtime there isn’t a whole lot of violence in Savage, and that’s really what makes it work. Almost the whole of the film focuses on Paul’s return to strength and designs on revenge; yet, you just know that something awful is coming… and when I say awful, I mean awful. The final scene of this film is so vicious, so uncompromising and so authentic feeling that the sounds alone will flip your stomach. Let’s just say that either the effects artists or Muldowney have most definitely viewed certain horrific videos available on the internet in preparation for devising the ending.
Hyperbole aside, Savage tells a damn good story that hits hard where it hurts. In my books, that makes it a disturbing, shocking and gut-wrenching success.
Unfortunately, the review disc of the film contained a basic time-coded screener so I am unable to comment in terms of the final version’s audio and video quality or the special features. Press materials, however, state that the retail disc will come inclusive of an audio commentary and Q&A material with director Brendan Muldowney and a selection of cast audition videos. It’s definitely a disc that I’ll be picking up, but due to inability to gauge the extras, the special features receive a standard two and a half knives.
4 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5