I wasn’t expecting much from The Aggression Scale when I sat down to watch it. Its director, Steven C. Miller, had prior made Automaton Transfusion, which I absolutely despised, and Scream of the Banshee, through which I lasted the first fifteen minutes. In fact, had I noticed it was a Steven C. Miller film as I was placing it into my queue, I likely would have opted out.
Much to my surprise, The Aggression Scale was pretty entertaining. In a plot that can easily be described as Home Alone on bath salts (topical!), a group of mafia thugs hunt down a mob king’s missing money, which was stolen by one of his former employees. Despite the thief having bought a large and isolated house in the woods with his brand new wife, her daughter, and his own introverted son, the thugs locate the family easy. And shit gets real.
The introvert, named Owen, doesn’t say a word to anyone. Not much is explained about him right away, and so his stepsister, Lauren, pretty much treats him like shit—it’s bad enough that she came home one day to find her stuff in boxes and the parents preparing to move without having discussed it with her, but now she’s forced to live alongside a “freak” of a stepbrother. Well, once the thugs come calling, that freak comes in handy, as Owen suddenly comes alive, quite adept at fucking with his predators by setting traps and making them run in circles.
And that’s where the title of the film comes into play: on the official medical “aggression scale,” Owen has scored 95 out of 100. In the past he’s beaten the shit out of school bullies with whom he was sick of dealing, though not in self defense, but pretending to flee from them into an isolated area, upon which he opens up a can of twelve-year-old whoop ass. Owen’s father, it turns out, has used the money for a shady deal to buy his son out of the psychiatric hospital where he was remanded before he was to be transferred to an adult prison.
The Aggression Scale is an intelligently conceived film in the sense that certain parts of it make you think, “oh, that was neat how Owen did that just then.” If the movie can show you a certain scenario that you yourself never would have thought of, you might be inclined to think that the movie is smarter than you. But it’s not (though the movie isn’t stupid, either. At least…not that stupid.) Because if you start thinking too hard about the movie’s premise, it starts to make less and less sense. For instance, I can buy that the kid is super aggressive, but since when has aggression and cunning been synonymous? Just because a kid has a bad temper, how does that suddenly equate to knowing how to mix noxious chemicals with basic household implements? How the fuck does he know how to drive all of a sudden? And you would think that after having bought his kid out of a psychiatric hospital, the father (portrayed as a good and loving man) might have sat down his new family additions and been like, “A’ight, here’s the deal with Owen.”
It’s petty quibbling on my part, though, because I enjoyed The Aggression Scale much more than I thought I would. It doesn’t want to be intelligent or well-thought out, it just wants to be entertaining and clever, and it is. It relishes in being a piece of pulp entertainment, which is never more evident than in the last ten seconds of the movie. Basically, it's okay with being cheap fun.
The notable stars of the film all happen to be the villains, and consist of Ray Wise as the mafia king, Dana Ashbrook as the leader of the thugs (you may remember him as the young cable repair man from Return of the Living Dead II—you know: “They want brains? We’ll GIVE them brains!”) and Derek Mears (the newest Jason Voorhees). Mears just might be my favorite character, playing someone somewhere between a pervert and a complete sociopath. It's fun seeing him in an actual role.
Young Ryan Hartwig does a great job as Owen, especially with the fact that he doesn’t say a single thing during the film, although at times what the kid is capable of doing comes across as more dangerous and intimidating than the kid himself: personally I would think that someone who scored 95/100 on an aggression scale would frown from time to time, but the kid wears one face the whole movie: looking at something.
Fabianne Therese plays Lauren, who is such a bitch during the first third of the movie that you kinda wish she’d be Owen’s first victim. She eventually loosens up after cutting her hand on a window and crying about it for pretty much the rest of the running time.
Miller is currently prepping a remake of Silent Night, Deadly Night, which to me sounds like a relatively difficult premise to fuck up. Killer Santa = killer gold, so let’s just see what happens.