Thursday, 16 February 2012

Rage (2010)

I wrote in Halloween II (1981) - A Worthy Companion Piece to the Original or not?: “In a key scene of ‘Halloween’ (1978), Laurie Strode (Curtis) goes to the empty Myers house to drop off the keys for her estate agent father on the way to school. She is accompanied by little Tommy Doyle who she meets along the way and is babysitting that night. Michael Myers sees them from inside and fixates on Laurie. John Carpenter is establishing that even the most common mundane things we do in the daily routines of our lives can land us in mortal danger. This is a frightening thing in itself.” In ‘Rage’ this influence of everyday happenings leading to life altering changes is further emphasised upon with direct references in homage to Steven Spielberg’s exceptional debut ‘Duel’ (1971). From independent filmmaker Christopher R. Witherspoon it is an admiral effort and a very competently made horror suspense thriller.

Witherspoon also shows off more of his immense talent by not just writing and directing but also taking on the roles of co-producer, director of photography, editor, sound editor and provides the digital visual effects. Just when you thought that was enough impressive multitasking he also plays the terrifyingly intimidating and effective unnamed antagonist of The Biker. This silent psycho stalker resembles the killers from the giallo mystery thrillers ‘What Have They Done to Your Daughters’ (1974) and ‘Strip Nude for Your Killer’ (1975) and the early 80’s slasher ‘Night School’ (1981). He is a maniac decked out in a black motorcycle outfit who never removes once his helmet with a pitch-black tinted visor during the lean 88 minutes running time. This short runtime features tight pacing and contains intense taut sequences of road rage leading to an unfortunately mixed bag home invasion climax that descends into slasher territory. ‘Rage’ is more though than just thrill ride entertainment; it is also a thought provoking character study of the not so perfect protagonist Dennis Twist (Rick Crawford), who becomes the victim of the loony biker’s uncontrollable rage who metaphorically embodies the old saying “what goes around comes around”. All this makes for some compelling viewing.

Set in Portland, Oregon Dennis is a thirty something University English lecturer and a failed novelist living in the suburbs with his devoted loving wife Crystal (Audrey Walker). Despite her undying support though, Dennis is not satisfied with how his life has turned out. After kissing his wife goodbye, he ventures out in his car to town on a day off from work. Accidently he takes a parking space ahead of a motorcyclist who was waiting to pull in before him but he did not see. Thinking nothing of the common everyday occurrence he goes on to meet his mistress. While they are sitting on a park bench together, Dennis breaks the news to her that he loves his wife and that the affair needs to end. She mentions a Steve her boyfriend who just got out of prison. While this is happening, The Biker is looking on behind a nearby tree. Seemingly, he gets pissed off when he sees them have one last passionate kiss just before Dennis gets up to leave.

From then on for around about the next 45 minutes of the film a game of cat and mouse is played out as the mysterious motorcyclist takes out a vendetta on Dennis. The Biker gets under his skin first with petty taunts and then gradually escalates matters to more serious levels leading to confrontations that are far more violent with Dennis believing him to be the jealous boyfriend of his bit on the side. When he thinks that he has finally escaped his tormentor Dennis goes home to his wife and this is where the director abruptly changes the tone to something far more disturbing than the hell ride on the motorway thriller that we have been watching and have gotten used to. Having followed Dennis the biker invades his home and not just viciously assaults him but his wife too - sexually. Just like Dennis, we are made to watch every savage moment of it. After this scene though, this is where ‘Rage’ falls apart for a little while. Christopher R. Witherspoon flips the script employing slasher conventions with a splattering of chainsaw violence when Dennis’ neighbours across the road get in The Biker’s way. This throws away the realistic aspect and raises questions in terms of plausibility. The final face off while grippingly entertaining is all we would expect from a slice ‘n dicer only lacking that one final scare.

What the movie does do efficiently is to show off Witherspoon’s huge potential in what he has to offer the studios. It works well as a showcase of talent and hopefully Hollywood will sit up and take notice. Considering he got so much out of a miniscule budget of an estimated $100,000, it would be interesting to see what this enthusiastic young filmmaker could get out of a bigger spending spree on a larger production.

Overall while not perfect this is a solidly capable decent little indie flick. While it loses focus from being a tightly well-executed suspense thriller for about the first three thirds of the film only to resort to over the top slasher shenanigans it still manages to keep us entertained with its fresh punky energy. While some of the acting from the supporting cast is a little patchy, the lead Crawford not only does a good job carrying the movie but also manages to convince us to sympathize for his character that just made a mistake and is now paying the price for it in this cautionary tale. Yet to be released, as far as I know ‘Rage’ has been shown at a couple of festivals since May 2010. When it finally is picked up, make sure you give it some investigation. It is sure worthwhile. 

Visit the official website here.

*** out of ****

Dave J. Wilson

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