The Aggression Scale (2012)

Directed By: Steven C. Miller
Written By: Ben Powell
Starring: Dana Ashbrook
  Derek Mears
  Ray Wise
  Ryan Hartwig
The Aggression Scale

A woman is out jogging through the ‘burbs and runs up to her front door. BANG! One shotgun blast, straight in the belly. Children watch. She dies.

Welcome to The Aggression Scale.

We begin with a horrendous murder in broad daylight – a seemingly random attack – but quickly realize the victim is on a list. This ‘hit list’ is being executed by Lloyd (Dana Ashbrook), a psychotically cold bastard working for hardcore gangster Bellavance (the always excellent Ray Wise). While locked in prison, Bellavance had 500,000 dollars stolen from him and he wants it back. Well, he wants to kill the thieves… AND get his money back.

There is only one person left on Bellavance’s list and hitman Lloyd sets off with three of his best men to finish the task. Unfortunately for the assassins, final-hit Bill Rutledge (Boyd Kestner) has escaped to the country with his wife and two kids.

The problem? Bill’s family. Specifically his son Owen (Ryan Hartwig), who happens to be a psychotic version of Kevin McCallister from Home Alone: inventive, protective, and dangerously smart. What begins as a relatively easy assassination attempt turns into a brutal and relentless fight to the death, with horrifying results for everyone involved.

The Aggression Scale is inspired stuff and superb fun. It takes a relatively simple premise and delivers an explosively entertaining horror / thriller with some fantastically captivating performances.

Dana Ashbrook is excellent as the efficiently cruel, cucumber-cool Lloyd, but he is almost eclipsed by his partner-in-crime Chissolm, played by Derek Mears. Mears does such a fine job of providing an off-beat, slightly-cracked character that the film is always lifted by his performance. That’s not to say the film sags when he’s not present, because literally everyone is excellent in The Aggression Scale.

Ryan Hartwig is especially good as the disturbing and cunning Owen, who is utterly compelling in a hauntingly odd way… He makes you genuinely believe this young teen could do these horrible and disturbing things to people, with little remorse. A great performance.

Playing with the rose-tinted hindsight ball, you realize the premise (and even the script) isn’t exactly stunningly original – bad guys attack a family in the countryside – but somehow screenwriter Ben Powell and director Steven C. Miller manage to make this essential viewing.

People have cited The Aggression Scale as ‘Home Alone meets Rambo’ but actually it’s just ‘Home Alone meets reality’. In the classic 1990 Christmas family movie, Macaulay Culkin stabs, smashes, pummels and sets on fire two criminal scumbags… but because of the cartoony nature of it, Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci just appear annoyed instead of dead! In The Aggression Scale the criminals actually die. It’s bloody, brutal and wince-inducingly horrendous at time… and utterly utterly brilliant.  Why has no one made this before?!

The quality of the production is hugely surprising, considering director Steven C. Miller is also responsible for Automaton Transfusion and the truly abysmal Scream of the Banshee. Luckily we don’t have to wait too long to see if The Aggression Scale was a fluke, with Miller’s next two films – Under the Bed and Silent Night - coming out in the next year!

The Aggression Scale is not stunningly original or genre-bustingly unique, but it takes a tried-and-tested idea (country-house family attacked by assailants!) and puts a fantastically compelling twist on it. The cast is exceptional and the horror / violence brilliantly done. This is a quality little film and Steve C. Miller is one to watch in the future. Great work. Watch it.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

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