Monday, 3 March 2014

Frightfest Glasgow 2014: Savaged Review

Frightfest Glasgow 2014 opened on Friday 28th February with rape/revenge flick Savaged.  The story opens with our deaf/mute heroine deciding against her mother’s will to embark on an epic desert road trip to start a new life with her fianc√©.  Her journey is interrupted when she tries to help a young Native American man who is being hunted by a gang of homicidal, redneck scumbags.  She soon finds herself kidnapped, bound to a bed with barbed wire, and subjected to a series of brutal rapes.  When an unsuccessful escape attempt ends with her tragic death her killer buries her body in the desert where it is discovered by a Native American shaman who performs a ritual to bring her back to life.  The ceremony is a success but she doesn’t come back alone and finds herself sharing her body with a dark passenger in the form of the spirit of a Native American warrior who died at the hands of an ancestor of one of her tormentors.  So begins a brutal tale of mutual vengeance.

Savaged isn’t perfect but it does have a lot going for it.  The biggest thing it has in its favour is a strong, dedicated performance courtesy of leading lady Amanda Adrienne who on the strength of this showing will hopefully be finding herself very busy from here on in.  It’s a pretty demanding role and she throws herself into it with such intensity that her performance becomes the strong foundation upon which the entire movie is built.  Without an actress of her calibre at its centre Savaged would have been half the movie it is.  Outside of her performance the remaining actors acquit themselves adequately but an intermittently wonky script does them no favours at times and the closing dialogue just before the movie fades to the credits was overly mawkish to the point where some laughter could be heard.  But this is a b-horror movie so it would be foolish to expect the dialogue to be a shining example of the craft and this only really becomes unintentionally amusing on a handful of occasions.  Certainly not often enough to put much of a dent in my enjoyment of the movie.

Another area where Savaged really works is in the action scenes which are often beautifully shot and crowd-pleasingly brutal.  With the theme of Native American vengeance I fully expected death by arrows and tomahawks with a healthy side-order of scalping.  The movie delivers all this and more with an unflinching verve that is truly impressive.  There are at least a handful of spectacular, blood-spattered, gut-ripping (in one case literally)  action sequences scattered throughout the movie most of which are shot through with kinetic energy and crucially never fall foul to that scourge of modern action cinema...the shaky-cam.  It’s during these set-pieces that the movie really comes alive and fortunately they make up a significant chunk of the run-time and are delivered in a fashion that belies the movie’s low budget.

Something else the movie gets right is its handling of it's most unpleasant scene.  Too many on-screen depictions of rape either don't go far enough and as a result fail too convey exactly how barbaric and unforgivable a violation it is.  At the same time I've seen a lot of movies where the act is presented in a fashion that pushes it into the realm of queasy exploitation or, worse, presents it as something the film-makers obviously intended to provide titillation for sickos.  It's a tough line to walk and Savaged gets it just right.  There's nothing sexualised about the assault.  Rape should never be sexy.  Instead the scene is relentlessly upsetting while at the same time showing a commendable degree of restraint.

Ultimately Savaged demonstrates what can be achieved on a low budget when there's enough talent both behind and in front the camera.  It looks fantastic, is exciting and despite the relatively minor shortcomings in the script department proved to be a great choice to open Frightfest Glasgow 2014.  If writer/director Michael S. Ojeda learns to dial down the slightly over-egged sentimentality that mars this movie at times and sharpens his skills where dialogue is concerned I think he could potentially deliver something very special at some point in the future. With Savaged he’s already about 80% of the way there.

Steve's Score:

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