Directed by Steven C. Miller
With various other reviews for The Aggression Scale already referring to the flick as a Home Alone for grown-ups, it’s truly hard to find a more perfect way than that to sum up what director Steven C. Miller has concocted with his clever, sleazy and breezy crime thriller that has a gang of hitmen on the run after they end up on the bad side of two teenagers during a heist job gone horribly wrong.
At the beginning of The Aggression Scale, we learn that dangerous mob boss Bellavance (Ray Wise) is looking to skip town while out on bail but as fate would have it, the $500,00 he set aside for such an occasion has gone missing. So what’s a hard-up mob boss to do? Well, he assembles a team of his best hit men, led by Dana Ashbrook’s Lloyd and including the likes of Derek Mears as well, to sniff out the rat who stole his loot by any means necessary.
However, things get complicated for Lloyd and his gang when they pay a visit to a newly relocated family consisting of newlyweds Bill (Boyd Kestner) and Maggie (Lisa Rotondi) and their maladjusted offspring Lauren (Fabianne Therese) and Owen (Ryan Hartwig). The group of hitmen make quick work of the adults but as they think they’re about to capture both of the seemingly helpless teens left behind, traps begin to pop up that catch the killers off-guard and have the thugs on the run for their very own lives before they can even figure out just what is happening.
What’s great about movies like The Aggression Scale is that when you see the movie in its entirety and fully realize it’s premise, you’ll wonder why it took someone this long to create this kind of incredibly clever twist on essentially what is Home Alone meets Rambo. It’s true that there’s really nothing insanely new about what writer Ben Powell has created in his script for The Aggression Scale, but what elevates the material is the talent on the screen as well as the talents of Miller at the helm, making for one hell of a fun flick.
The very heart and soul of The Aggression Scale is Hartwig’s character Owen, and had the up-and-coming actor faltered at all in his stoic performance, the movie would have crumbled. The entire set-up of the second and third acts of the film is that you have to believe that this kid could take down Jason Voorhees (Mears) believably, and thankfully Hartwig takes no prisoners here and shines with his portrayal of a deeply disturbed but ultimately loyal kid. Therese, who plays Hartwig’s older step-sister Lauren, does a great job of managing a role that pushes the actress into some very emotional territory, and the pair of actors have a great chemistry together as the film and their path of destruction rolls on.
Ashbrook is great as “cool as a cucumber” Lloyd, but it’s Derek Mears who almost steals the entire movie from everyone else with his offbeat sense of humor that proves this guy should be doing a lot more work without a mask on from here on out (don’t get me wrong, Mears is great in make-up but I think he’s got the potential to do a lot more outside of those kinds of roles).
Miller proves with The Aggression Scale that the third time is a charm as it’s apparent that as a filmmaker he has made great strides since working on previous projects like Automaton Transfusion and Scream of the Banshee; his approach feels more polished and focused and his handling of the material is solid. All of the action sequences are skillfully handled and he balances the tone of the material perfectly. The one thing the film does suffer from is some pacing issues in the first act that lags the story down a bit as we settle in with the characters, but overall The Aggression Scale establishes Miller as one of the most promising indie filmmakers working today and certainly makes this writer eager to see what he can do with the Silent Night, Deadly Night remake coming later this year.
The Aggression Scale feels like a cult classic in the making and pretty much has “midnight movie” written all over it. The flick should please genre fans across the board, too. There’s enough blood and mayhem to keep the gorehounds happy, and for the fans out there who look for a little more brains than blood in their viewing choices, they should be satiated by Powell’s wickedly violent story and Miller’s ability to turn the usual home invasion flick into one of the more unusual and clever games of cat and mouse fans have ever experienced before.
While not an entirely perfect flick, the good far outweighs the bad here and is recommended viewing once The Aggression Scale hits DVD and Blu-ray shelves everywhere on May 29th.
3 1/2 out of 5