Now this was a bit of a surprise. When I first saw the trailer for "The Aggression Scale", I was intrigued but worried. That's because while it looked interesting, I also knew that it was directed by Steven C. Miller, whose directorial credits included "Automaton Transfusion" and "Scream of the Banshee", and that it was written by the guy who did an awful film called "Satanic." Well, I was shocked to say the least, when I found myself actually impressed by this twist on the home invasion movie.
Bellavance (the always reliable Ray Wise) has enlisted Lloyd (Dana
Ashbrook), Chissolm (Derek Mears), and two others to get $500,000 dollars he's lost. The problem: that money is in the possession of newlyweds Bill (Boyd Kestner) and Maggie (Lisa Rotondi.) So, no problem right? Its not like their kids will put up a fight? Well, Owen (Ryan Hartwig) will, and by that, I mean he's a lot more dangerous and cunning than he appears.
Most reviewers have described this movie as "'Home Alone' for horror fans", and that description is mostly true. That out of the way, you could throw in "Rambo" too, because Owen is more like a middle school version of that character. The reason for this is because he doesn't just make traps: he makes traps that are designed to maim and kill. Thankfully, this is accentuated by Hartwig's performance. He plays Owen not just as a young killer, but as a silent one as well. There's a brooding intensity well above the actors years in this performance, and he makes this kid seem like a credible threat.
It also helps that this is a tense and violent movie that thankfully avoids the post "Strangers" style of home invasion movies (though I do like that movie.) It easily could have gone the wrought of films like "Saw IV" or "The Collector", but instead opts more for tension, suspense and pitch black humor. Miller shows some serious improvement as a director here, offering up several suspenseful set pieces punctuated by bursts of visceral mayhem and strong acting, as well as a sense of dark irony. The latter part falls on Chissolm, and Mears thankfully manages to make his predicaments blackly comic without overacting. Add a strong ending and a brisk pace, and you've got yourself a nice little sleeper.
I can't call "The Aggression Scale" a flawless movie (the score is rather bland, and theirs a few editing choices that felt off to me), but this is the kind of horror flick that makes digging for worthy titles so much fun. Check it out if you have a chance.