I love little surprises. When I received a Blu-ray from Anchor Bay entitled The Aggression Scale in the mail, I expected very little. Even looking over the cover and synopsis, I assumed I was getting yet another in a long line of torture porn style home-invasion flicks, so, needless to say, it didn’t exactly get my juices flowing. Once the flick started, though, I immediately got an entirely different vibe from it – one that reminded me of those great, uncompromising uber-violent 70s crime flicks, and, from then on, The Aggression Scale completely won me over.
Paroled crime boss Bellavance (Ray Wise) has 48 hours of freedom left in which to track down $500,000 dollars that was stolen from him so that he and his son can flee the country before he’s due back in court to face his fate. He enlists the aid of a quartet of hitmen, headed up by the no-nonsense Lloyd (Dana Ashbrook), who, after blasting their way through several of Bellavance’s business partners, follows the paper trail to the newly married and suspiciously prosperous Bill (Boyd Kestner).
Bill, it seems, has been busy spending Bellavance’s money, moving into an extravagant home with his new wife, Maggie (Lisa Rotondi), Maggie’s rebellious teenage daughter Lauren (Fabianne Therese) and Bill’s emotionally disturbed son Owen (Ryan Hartwig). The creepily quiet Owen has been recently (and somewhat mysteriously) discharged from a mental hospital where he’s spent much of his young life, and, much to her chagrin, Lauren finds herself charged with keeping tabs on the strange boy while Bill and Maggie set up house. When Lloyd and his hit squad come-a-knockin’, Maggie is killed, Bill is tied up, and Lauren flees to Owen’s room, where, as if the home invasion has triggered something within him, Owen instantly goes into badass mode, clocking Lloyd’s hulking henchmen, Chissolm (a surprisingly funny and effective Derek Mears), in the dome with a baseball bat. Owen and Lauren climb out the window, and, when Chissolm attempts to follow, he’s incapacitated by razor blades embedded in the windowsill by the trap-savvy Owen. Soon it becomes clear to Lloyd that he’s dealing with more than an average teenager, but, when one of his men discovers a wad of cash hidden in Lauren’s bed, he has no choice but to go after them to find out where the rest of his boss’ money; that is, of course, unless Owen finds them first.
Steven C. Miller’s (who burst onto the scene with the acclaimed $50,000 dollar zombie flick, Automaton Transfusion) film is a rousing, violent, and darkly humorous action/revenge yarn that owes as much to films like Get Carter and Straw Dogs as it does to…well…Home Alone! Yes, I’ve seen several reviews where The Aggression Scale has been called a bloody and brutal version of the family friendly Macaulay Culkin film, and, to an extent, this is true. While Owen isn’t nearly as cutesy or ingratiating as Kevin McCallister, he does share said protagonist’s ingenuity and affinity for MacGyveresque traps, and Hartwig is mesmerizing in the role, speaking volumes with just a handful of gestures and controlled facial expressions. Ashbrook and Wise also turn in strong performances as the film’s lead baddies, with Wise, in particular, making for a memorably mercurial mob boss despite his limited screen time.
The Aggression Scale comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Anchor Bay, and is presented in an exceptional 2.41:1 transfer. The level of detail on display here is extraordinary, as the film’s digital origins translate to the medium with a sharpness that has to be seen to be truly appreciated. The film is color timed to give it a somewhat edgy look, but the colors are rich and vibrant, with natural flesh tones and strong, true blacks. The accompanying 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is a bit heavy on the bass, but dialogue is crisp and organic, while effects, like the crush of gravel under tires or distant bird song, are convincingly implemented.
Extras are limited to a brief making of (SD) as well as trailers for other Anchor Bay/Starz releases. Sigh...
The Aggression Scale – unfortunate title notwithstanding - is a surprisingly fresh take on the exhausted home-invasion genre, with convincing gore and performances that are well above average for such a low-budget genre flick. The Blu-ray looks and sounds excellent, and, despite a lack of supplemental goodies, this film is just so insanely badass that I have no choice than to give it my highest recommendation.