SXSW 2012 Review: THE AGGRESSION SCALE is a Fan Pleasing Midnighter with Style
What if Macaulay Culkin's Kevin McCallister from HOME ALONE wasn't the lovable trouble maker in the John Hughes mold, but was instead a vicious psychopath more in line with Jack the Ripper than Dennis the Menace? This is the essential question asked by Steven C. Miller in his sophomore feature. Replace marbles with razor sharp jacks, replace paint cans with sharpened branches, and replace simulated gunfire with a pump-action 12 gauge shotgun, and you've got the basic premise of THE AGGRESSION SCALE. You've also got a pretty damned good time at the cinema.
The story begins when crime boss Bellavance (Ray Wise) is released from prison. He has 48 hours to get his family and flee the country before he gets put away for good. The only problem is his half a million dollars of getaway cash has suddenly up and got away. With too much heat to go track it down himself, Bellavance puts his best man Lloyd (Dana Ashbrook) on the job. Do this right and Lloyd will be the next boss. Mess it up, and Bellavance won't be the only one disappearing. "Wives and children," Bellavance tells Lloyd. Make it loud, make it messy, and send a message.
Cut to a family as they travel across country roads towards their new home, all their worldly possessions in tow. Teenage daughter Lauren (Fabianne Therese) doesn't know what's going on (we have an idea), but she certainly isn't happy to be moving on such short notice. Teenage son Owen (Ryan Hartwig) sits silently, seeming far less concerned. Something is not right with this kid. It doesn't take long before Lloyd and his crew shows up and finds out first hand what's wrong with Owen. That's when the real fun starts.
THE AGGRESSION SCALE's biggest strength is in its performances. Ray Wise is a great mob boss, even though it's a pretty small role. His TWIN PEAKS co-star Ashbrook is a real star. Derek Mears puts in a great turn as Lloyd's muscled-up thug. Therese plays Lauren convincingly and Hartwig's silent performance is seriously haunting.
The action is at its best when Miller really pushes the boundaries of his world. Hands coming down on razor blades and the other plentiful opportunities to spill copious amount of screen blood will have audiences howling with joy. Some spots slow down a bit towards the two-thirds mark, however, and a heavier hand in the editing room might have led to a bit tighter package. But all things considered, THE AGGRESSION SCALE provides all the thrills a midnight audience desires; a cinematic "what if?," executed with style.