“Fear”, says the tagline of violent thriller Savage, “Control, Anger, Revenge”. So with the emotional state of the main character summed up for me in advance I sat down to Savage reassured that I couldn’t fail to understand the violent journey to masculinity of innocent victim Paul Graynor. Following Savage’s example I found it was possible to return the favour, summing up in four bite-sized abstract nouns what I felt during Paul’s eighty-five minute ordeal.
I have no doubt that throughout the film director Brendan Muldowney’s intention was to create a feeling of uneasiness, and this he certainly achieved. Savage leaves it’s audience however hovering somewhere between anxiety and disinterest creating convincing tension every time Paul approaches a sharp object but leaving the scene ultimately flat when he proceeds to cry/go a bit weird/kill a sheep. Savage suffers from a problem common to films with a serious subject matter in that silence is often deemed a suitable alternative to a sound track leaving many scenes still and lifeless punctuated only by the odd unpleasant squelching sound effect.
The general concept of a man coming to terms with a random violent attack was a promising one from the start. Paul did nothing to provoke the assault that resulted in his castration and the themes of social alcoholism and problematic violent youths are deftly portrayed. The subsequent examination of masculinity however seems to be riddled with holes. We follow Paul joining a gym, taking steroids and attempting painfully to masturbate but with no apparent logic to his actions and with very little interaction with any other characters it quickly becomes difficult to understand his motives. The film skips swiftly from the careful detailing of long-haired Paul’s abject terror in the face of a gang of Special Brew drinking youths to following a shaven psychopath stalking every hoody he can find in scenes that fail to fulfil their high-tension promise.
The main distinct flaw with this film is that the main character simply doesn’t work. I took little interest in Paul at the beginning of the film and as he descended into emotional turmoil I became less and less sympathetic to him. His character skips all over the place as he slowly loses his marbles and it becomes impossible to track or to relate to his wild behaviour. The finale of the film, which skips rapidly from a tender mutual love scene with his long term leading lady to his random massacre of two car-jackers, feels particularly false. This scene leaves the confused viewer feeling rudely excluded from the conclusion to Paul’s emotional masculine epiphany as well as somewhat visually violated.
Never a fan of the unnecessarily grotesque myself I found the blood-drenched end of this brutal thriller to be both unfulfilling and stomach-churning. By the end of the film Paul has gone so far beyond our reach that he looks like a speck on the horizon. I appreciate that I may not be in the best position to relate to the internal struggles of an emasculated middle-aged man, and the film certainly successfully highlights the narrowness of the line trodden between stability and insanity, but I’m not sure that was an issue I ever wanted to examine in my leisure time. The only other point I can see for Savage is to highlight the failings of the NHS, as it is certain that someone somewhere let Paul down. Described as reminiscent of Scorsese’s classic I’d call it more Bus Driver than Taxi Driver, and think Dublin, not New York.