Rarely has the phrase ‘a game of two halves’ found its cinematic expression as succinctly as in Canadian action-horror For the Sake of Vicious. Directing duo Gabriel Carrer and Reese Eveneshen build tension in this taut three-handed thriller, only for the film to explode into absurd, relentless ultraviolence that more than lives up the film’s boneheaded title.
Romina (Lora Burke) is a nurse just getting off her exhausting shift on Halloween night. An intruder (Nick Smyth) forces his way into her home with a bound and injured man in tow. The intruder is Chris, a father beside himself with rage at his hostage (Colin Paradine), a man who he believes is his daughter’s rapist.
What follows is a paranoid face-off as the three participants (one tied to a chair in Romina’s kitchen) vie to wrestle control of the situation away from each other. Anxious to keep the peace, Romina finds herself torn between fear, a healthcare professional’s responsibility to preserve life, and her sympathy for a parent in distress. This section of the film is fairly strong, despite some clunky exposition sequences. It’s a testament to Lora Burke’s acting chops that she keeps the film feeling grounded even as we get lost in the weeds of a revenge plot that barely makes sense.
When a group of Halloween-masked bikers burst into the story, the film shifts gears into an action-horror with relentless, grinding violence. There are gunshots, knife wounds, hammers to the head, and a great deal of people lurching about and smashing into walls and cabinets. As an audience, we get up close and personal with the brutality, as many scenes are set in enclosed spaces like bathrooms or blood-streaked corridors.
Alex Tong’s cinematography is perfect for the story at hand. In fact, it would be easy to argue that it does a lot of heavy lifting, and helps the audience to overlook a slightly patchy script. In his hands, the house feels like a pressure cooker, with the characters hemmed in in a way that effectively ratchets up the tension. Meanwhile, the outside world is a neon-drenched nightscape populated by sinister yet stylish gangsters. The score by FOXGRNDR and Gabriel Carrer is a sea of sleazy, throbbing ’80s synthesisers with occasional Hans Zimmer-style percussive stabs. It’s perfect for a film that, like Drive, is a modern spin on late ’80s exploitation cinema.
Despite its lean 80-minute runtime, For the Sake of Vicious can still drag in places. Its over-reliance on dramatic twists rather than character development means that it isn’t as engaging as it needs to be to give its balletic violence emotional heft. It’s a stylish and impressive directorial effort, but the storytelling suffers from a lack of substance. For fans of ’80s-influenced modern grindhouse movies, it is sure to hit home, with some of the scenes of animal-mask-wearing gangsters seemingly lifted straight from the Hotline Miami games. However, a casual audience may find it more forgettable.