Fantasia International Film Festival runs August 20th through September 2nd as a completely online event. We’re used to attending in person in beautiful Montreal, Canada, but we’re excited to cover this fantastic festival virtually too. Our coverage of this year’s Fantasia Festival continues with our review of the brutal barrage that is For the Sake of Vicious.
Not every movie needs to make sense. Sure, there should typically be some kind of understanding between filmmaker and film viewers to keep both within a chapter or two of the same page, but audiences don’t need to understand everything. There are numerous examples of complex, intentionally confusing and opaque films open to varied interpretation that are also beloved and critically acclaimed despite being dense and weighty experiences. Think the likes of Enemy (2013), Mulholland Drive (2001), Upstream Color (2013), Synedoche, New York (2008), and other intricate, thought-provoking tales.
What For the Sake of Vicious presupposes is, maybe a movie can be both deceptively simple and utterly lacking in explanation… while still delivering an incredibly entertaining slice of home invasion action/horror.
Romina (Lora Burke) is a nurse heading home after a long shift to prepare her son for a night of Halloween trick or treating. The calm is short-lived, though, as she discovers two men in her house. One’s beaten unconscious, and the other is approaching her aggressively. The one with blood on his hands is Chris (Nick Smythe), a disturbed man whose young daughter was assaulted a few years prior. The bloodied and bruised guy on the floor is Alan (Colin Paradine) — the man accused of raping his child. What starts in chaos erupts further as accusations fly, blood flies more copiously, and a masked motorcycle gang arrives to paint the walls red.
For the Sake of Vicious gives zero fucks about keeping viewers in the loop as to why anything is happening, but goddamn is it addictive in its style, confidence, and gloriously abundant violence. It’s a blood-covered, carnage-filled, Halloween-set treat interested less in the why of things than in the whoa. The film looks and sounds fantastic too thanks to stellar work from cinematographer Alex Tong and composers Carrer and Foxgrndr who deliver a pulsing synth score giving a beat to the beatdowns.
Writers/directors Gabriel Carrer and Reese Eveneshen set up a tight little three-handed thriller with Romina caught up in the conflict between Chris and Alan, and the truth behind it all remains constantly up in the air. Is Alan guilty? Does Romina have some connection to Alan beyond him being her landlord? What the hell is going on with this masked gang? Could a person really keep fighting for a few minutes with a hammer lodged in their eye socket? Does no one in this neighborhood have ears that work? Is good affordable housing really worth all of this?
The action in For the Sake of Vicious is what it’s all about. To be clear, this isn’t stylized, sharply choreographed martial arts — the characters here are brawling for their very lives. It’s ugly, raw, and unhinged as people are shot, stabbed, and savaged with abandon, and the sound design ensures we hear and feel every moment. The practical effects keep all of it in viewers’ faces with blood, gore, and prosthetics splashing the screen. Indie films often excuse poor action sequences as the fault of low budgets, but Carrer and Eveneshen prove what a crock of shit that argument really is by delivering brutal fights and carnage that rattle the house’s walls with impact and intensity.
The script’s issues with explanation are forgivable offenses as what we see and experience more than makes up for what we’re wondering about. Less excusable are some sketchy character choices that leave Romina as one of the less intelligent protagonists out there. To be fair, some of her decisions play into the question of what she may or may not be involved in, but most mark her as a bit daft and indecisive at times. A scene where she stands staring at her front door as someone on the outside clearly tries to pick the lock will have you yelling at the screen.
For the Sake of Vicious will leave some viewers hoping for more meat on its bones, but others will be thrilled by the bloody meat on display. Bodies are absolutely brutalized here (via fights, not torture scenes), and both our loyalty and concern for the three leads are tested throughout by the things they say and do… and by what’s done to them.