In ‘Aggression Scale,’ be careful of opening up the front door

Twin Peaks alumni, Dana Ashbrook and Ray Wise, come together for a violent take on the home-invasion sub-genre. The Aggression Scale, written by Ben Powell and directed by Steven C. Miller, is a relentless exercise in unexpected carnage. There’s little characterization and almost no plot. The 85-minute film simply features good guys and bad guys — and the ultimate question is, who will last until the end credits?

Bellavance (Wise) is some type of criminal boss who is owed a ton of money from a variety of people. He dispatches Lloyd (Ashbrook) and a team of bruisers to find the funds, kill anyone in the know and take Polaroid pictures of the carcasses (apparently digital prints are too complicated). One by one, the victims begin to fall, and The Aggression Scale shows no mercy when it comes to these deaths. A character is introduced, and within seconds Lloyd and his men serve out some bloody vengeance.

The plot thickens when the guys confront a family that’s moving into a new house. After the parents are unceremoniously killed, the bad guys turn their sights on the teenage daughter (Fabianne Therese) and younger son (Ryan Hartwig). But even though the adults dropped within seconds, the children are much tougher to stop. Owen (Hartwig), an unusual boy who doesn’t speak, is a master booby-trap maker who makes it his mission to stop Lloyd and his crew. Lauren (Therese) screams a lot and runs to her brother’s side for some protection.

There are a few positives in the movie. Despite the simplicity of the plot, the characters mostly act with a believable sense of smartness. There aren’t too many dumb decisions like so many other thrillers and horror movies. The energy level is also quite palpable. The action begins right away and doesn’t let up until the very end.

Still, Miller is unable to sustain the audience’s interest in these characters. Except for Lloyd, who is played very convincingly by Ashbrook, there’s no subtext to these creations. Why does Owen not speak? Why does he have this adept skill at survival? Why does Owen and Lauren’s father owe Bellavance the money? Who is Bellavance? There are only frustrating quasi-answers to all of these questions. An extra 20 minutes to the film might have dragged down the plot, but it would have offered some inkling to why this story is being told in the first place.

The most wasted opportunity is Wise’s performance. He appears three times and only for a minute or two. His entire presence in the film feels like an example of stunt casting, a reason to have a well-known name above the title. Bellavance in no way commands our attention or plays like a typical cinematic villain. He simply sets the plot in motion and serves at the expense of the movie.

The Aggression Scale fails to shock, engage or thrill.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • The Aggression Scale

  • 2012

  • Directed by Steven C. Miller

  • Written by Ben Powell

  • Starring Ray Wise, Dana Ashbrook, Fabianne Therese and Ryan Hartwig

  • Running time: 85 minutes

  • Rated R for strong bloody violence, language and brief drug use

  • Rating: ★★☆☆

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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