(18) Running time: 88 minutes
Director: Brendan Muldowney
Writer: Brendan Muldowney
Starring: Darren Healy, Nora-Jane Noone, Gerry Shanahan
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
Darren Healy gives a superb and chilling performance here as Paul Graynor, a loner who’s Father is ill in hospital and he spends his days either visiting his Dad and chatting to his nurse Michelle (Noone) or photographing harsh realities of life. We meet him as he witnesses a sad and desperate moment where two homeless chaps wrestle in broad day light in fornt of passers by over a bottle of spirits. A pathetic but all too true glimpse of life on the other side. With long hair, a shy face and glasses, Paul keeps his head down and doesn’t like to bother anyone. In truth, he is just like you or I, wanting to get through life with no threat of violence or feeling scared, but sadly the harsh reality is that these things exist, especially in the city of Dublin, where this was filmed. Whether you want it or not, trouble will eventually find you, its how you deal with it that defines you as a person.
Paul is quiet, he makes conversation with nurse Michelle and eventually she invites him out for a drink. While in a bar an ex-boyfriend casually walk up to her, kisses her and in front of Paul smiles and tells her to call him. Paul says nothing, what can he say? Some people just don’t give a damn about feelings and are looking for a fight, the ex probably wanted Paul to react but he didn’t, he looked down at his pint and let the prick walk on. This is Paul, he doesn’t want any trouble. The two agree to meet again, Michelle offers him a taxi home but Paul is going a different direction and so he walks, late at night though Dublins city. Director Brendan Muldowney really impresses here as it is clear he is making a statement, much like James Watkins did with the superb Eden Lake. As Paul walks the streets he is disgusted by what he see’s, girls half naked and vomiting, guys waving their fists in the air chanting drunken songs, fights, weirdo’s dancing in the street and screaming; its all a bit nerve jangling if you are on your own, sober and a little scared. The way the director shoots this, accompanied by the perfect score really hits home and makes you think about todays society, and is anyone truly safe. The film hits a raw nerve, expertly delivered and top marks go to Muldowney for really banging home a message of what its like for people who don’t want a fight, who just want to get home without the fear of being threatened or attacked. Sadly the reality is if you look vulnerable, you are more likely to get attacked.
Two lads pull a knife on Paul, take him into an alley, rob him, slash his face and violently beat him. He wakes up in hospital a changed man, scared to death and a nervous wreck. One out of hospital Paul can barely go about his daily routine, scared of even an old man asking him for the time. This is where the film really really works, in the human aspect of one’s suffering after an attack. This is what happens to countless victims all the time, but what is frightening is what happens next. After another panic attack Paul decides he has had enough and will not be pushed around and so decides to show off his scar by getting his head shaved, he joins a gym and takes self defense classes. Now the film takes a more sinister turn and enters into the realms of real darkness and it becomes unsettling and, at times, frightening. Paul changes, he stops seeing Michelle and his soul mission is to stand up to bullies and have his revenge. It is a gradual change, the shaven head for the image, the self defense classes to learn how to fight and at he gym Paul becomes hooked on steroids which fuel his anger. A disturbing scene see’s Paul stomping down the street on a mission chomping on steroids, one after another he has a glare in his eyes as his tablets linger in his mouth like a disease, half of them falling out half eaten due to him taking too many! He now carries a knife too, for self defense but it is a massive hunting knife which he tests out in a truly shocking scene where he both tests his skills with a knife and his ability to actually hurt something.
As Paul falls deeper and deeper into this obsession to stand up to those who hate we get a real sense of something bad is gonna happen. Paul tests himself, tries to see what he is capable of, mouthing off in the changing rooms in the gym, standing up to some guy trying to pick a fight in the street, Paul tests how far he can push himself, we wants to concur his fears and become fearless like the people who attacked him. In essence, Paul is becoming just like those who made him this way and he cannot stop the downward spiral. The film does lead to a shocking climax, but it is expected and almost feels like a release for the poor guy. You have to give it to Healy for his astonishing performance his change in character and appearance make him almost unrecognisable. This is powerful stuff, well crafted and strongly delivered for maximum impact. In a way this is a horror due to the horrific things that do happen in the film and the brooding sense of menace through out. There is not a lot of violence but when it does happen in is fast, brutal and sickening, I actually found myelf close to looking away in some parts, so be warned this is not an easy watch.
The film can be slow if you are not in the mood for a story and character study that gradually reveal themselves. However, if you are into serious, honest drama with some seriously dark stuff involved then this is for you. I don’t believe this film will be to everyone’s taste, in fact I can imagine a lot of viewers will probably hate it. However, if you do ‘get it’ you will find a highly disturbing story, driven by a powerhouse performance by Healy with some expertly crafted scenes of violence and threat and some wonderful camera work. The music helps move the film along nicely too, as do the sound effects which are top notch. Savage is Britains answer to Taxi Driver, and you will find yourself thinking of Travis Bickle as you witness Paul pretend stabbing people infront of his mirror in the comfort and safety of his own home. Savage is a film that will get under your skin and stay in your mind for days, maybe weeks to come. Powerful stuff!