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Thursday, May 3, 2012

THE AGGRESSION SCALE -- DVD review by porfle

With so much crud coming out on DVD these days, it's always nice to run across a mid-budget action-suspense thriller that jumps out of the pack and turns out to be, in its own modest way, surprisingly awesome.  THE AGGRESSION SCALE (2010) did just that for me, especially since my expectations weren't all that high to begin with.

Crime boss Mr. Bellavance (Ray Wise) wants the money that was stolen from him by one of his employees, so he sends a gang of ruthlessly efficient hitmen led by Lloyd (Dana Ashbrook) to kill their way through a list of suspects until they find it.  The first part of the story shows a few of their kills and lets us know what a bunch of really mean guys they are as they strut around in "yeah, we bad" slo-mo. 

Meanwhile, Bill (Boyd Kestner) has just used a bunch of money he "found" to get his troubled son Owen (Ryan Hartwig), who has a history of violent behavior, out of the looney bin and move his new blended family way, way out into the country.  This includes new wife Maggie (Lisa Rotondi) and her sullen daughter Lauren (Fabianne Therese), who's going through a "I hate everything including you" phase. 

At first, it seems as though we're going to spend a lot of time having to watch Bill and his family awkwardly cope with their new life together--and not really caring a whole bunch about it--but that's blown all to hell when Lloyd and his crew burst through the front door.  At that moment, the film shifts into high gear and never stops.  Director Steven C. Miller proves he isn't fooling around by staging one of the most cold-blooded executions I've seen in quite a while.

Tall, scary skinhead Chissolm (Derek Mears) goes upstairs to hunt for the kids, which is when the silent Owen begins to come out of his shell and display talents on loan from Rambo.  It's great fun watching this commando-savant, whose experience with bullies has taught him that a good defense is a kick-ass offense, silently pondering his next move and then carrying out hastily improvised survival plans while his older sister loses it.

Also quite satisfying is seeing the bad guys react in sheer amazement to how two kids are causing their own brutal efficiency to fall apart around them.  (I love it when an incredulous Chissolm looks at Lloyd and says, "Can you f***ing believe this shit?")  After Owen and Lauren's escape, the action setpieces include some tense cat-and-mouse stuff in and around a moving van and then in the forest surrounding the house, where Owen is able to come up with some nasty woodland surprises that they forgot to teach us in Cub Scouts.

Performances are fine, with Ryan Hartwig deftly using facial expressions to make the most of his non-speaking role.  Fabianne Therese is convincing enough as his irritating stepsister without actually being too irritating.  Eventually they evolve into a team that we can root for.

The actors portraying Lloyd's sadistic cohorts manage to be both scary and funny.  Dana Ashbrook gives Lloyd just enough menace to avoid coming off as a cartoonish villain, while his fellow "Twin Peaks" alumnus Ray Wise is appropriately vile in a smaller role as Mr. Bellavance.  Steven C. Miller maintains a breakneck pace and wrings as much nail-biting suspense as he can from Ben Powell's taut script, with a driving musical score augmenting the action.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.40:1 widescreen with English Dolby 5.1 and Spanish Dolby 2.0 sound.  No subtitles.  A fifteen-minute "making of" featurette is the sole extra.

THE AGGRESSION SCALE thwarts expectations by making us think it's a variation on THE DESPERATE HOURS and then hanging a sharp left turn into HOME ALONE territory, albeit on a much more lethal level.  A final Rube Goldberg-type contraption thrown together by Owen stretches credulity a bit, but by that time I was ready to see every last one of those evil bastards get everything that was coming to them. 

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