I'm going to try to NOT oversell the gritty indie "The Aggression Scale." This is a small, low-budget endeavor that succeeds on its own modest terms. But it is really best to keep your expectations in check, that way you might be pleasantly surprised. A hit at this year's SXSW Film Festival, "The Aggression Scale" tells a fairly simple story, allows for a slow build tension, and then packs a few terrifically unpleasant confrontations into its final act. But the less you know, the better. The movie is already being compared to another prominent and beloved film (both by the media and with other reviewers here). I'm not mentioning which movie, though. I happen to think that making this comparison devalues the twists that develop in the film's second half. I had been aware of this prior to seeing the film and as I watched the movie, I wished I hadn't known where exactly we were headed. In fact, I screened this with a friend and kept all secrets to myself. When things started happening, it had much more impact for him because he wasn't expecting anything in particular.
Truthfully, there's not much plot to director Steven C. Miller's third film. But guess what? It doesn't really matter. It's best not to scrutinize the film from an intellectual level, just hang on for the experience. I was no fan of his last movie, The Scream of the Banshee, which took a good idea and turned it into a most generic thriller. For me, "The Aggression Scale" definitely is a step in the right direction, but it's still quite rough around the edges. In this case, though, that works well for the movie which has a seventies exploitation type ambience. It's a gritty Grindhouse type of movie with loads of violence, a fascinating hero, menacing bad guys, and an occasional lapse of logic. But it works. "Twin Peaks" veterans Ray Wise and Dana Ashbrook join forces as the primary villains in the piece. Wise, a crime boss just out of jail, enlists his henchman (led by Ashbrook) to recover some stolen money. This leads to general murder and mayhem.
You want more story? Too bad. Nothing is particularly explained beyond this cursory outline. The bad guys soon go after a family at their desolate country home. And the rest of the story plays out as a cat-and-mouse game of survival. As I said, there are some nice surprises and much brutality. It's always good to see Wise although he doesn't have much to do here. The break-out performance is young Ryan Hartwig, who conveys a lot without saying anything. I liked "The Aggression Scale" for exactly what it is. It's not a great movie by any means, but it is an effective one on a visceral level. With moderate expectation, there's plenty to enjoy here as a guilty pleasure. About 3 1/2 stars, I'll round up for Hartwig. KGHarris, 5/12.