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A Little Blood (Review: For the Sake of Vicious)

For the Sake of Vicious is streaming on Apple TV

There’s one aspect of filmmaking that’s never gotten the respect it deserves. Directors are fawned over at film festivals. Actors are feted at the Academy Awards. Hell, even lowly screenwriters have websites, publications, and festivals honoring their achievements. But year after year, stunt performers are consistently ignored.*

We all know that a big reason for that is due to marketing. Studios want us to watch an action extravaganza and believe that Arnold/Tom/Will/Chris/Chris/Chris are doing all their own stunts. It’s true that some actors like Keanu Reeves and Tom Cruise will walk up to the line of what’s safely allowed, and sometimes leap over that line. The reality is that teams of highly trained stunt performers put their bodies and lives on the line, over and over, to make actors look good.

I suspect another reason has to do with the quantum leaps forward that have taken place with CGI. In less than 20 years, we’ve come all the way from 2001’s The Mummy Returns and a howlingly bad computer-generated Dwayne Johnson to a photorealistic Thanos in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame. Scores of directors, producers, and executives probably believe it’s easier, faster, and safer to achieve an effect by manipulating a few million pixels.

Sometimes they’re right. The problem is, it doesn’t always feel real. While computerized effects work is a very real art, it’s also a tool, and it’s sometimes not the right tool for a project. When creative and highly trained stunt professionals are part of the alchemy of moviemaking, the results can be magical. A great example of that magic is the action/horror bloodbath For the Sake of Vicious.

It’s been a long day for Romina (Lora Burke). Nursing shifts are never easy and as a single mom, she just wants to come home, change out of her scrubs, and take her boy trick-or-treating on Halloween night. There are two snags in her plan, however. The first is the badly beaten man she discovers sprawled on her kitchen floor. 

The second snag is Chris (Nick Smyth). He’s armed and upset, a truly volatile combination. Romina learns that Chris has kicked the ass of Alan (Colin Paradine) seventeen different kinds of ways. Is this a problem that could be hashed out over a nice cup of coffee and a piece of pie? Not as such.

You see, Alan appears to be a moderately successful businessman, though one with some unsavory associates. Even worse is the fact that Chris’s daughter was the victim of an assault, and he’s absolutely convinced that Alan is the perpetrator. So why doesn’t he put a bullet in Alan’s noggin and call it a day? He wants Alan to acknowledge his guilt.

Thus far, we have a dramatic thriller that’s not unlike the very good Death and the Maiden, in which horrible accusations fly and we wonder if an innocent man is being railroaded or if he’s guilty as hell. When a motorcycle gang arrives at Romina’s modest house, the film shifts gears, and gallons of blood are spilled.

Playing successfully in a single genre is hard. Skipping between genres and knowing the right tone to take at any given moment is damn near impossible. With For the Sake of Vicious, directors Gabriel Carrer and Reese Eveneshen have made a film that begins as a tense psychological thriller, then transforms into a balls-out action siege movie. Early on, when they’re focusing on the character relationships, FTSOV slows down and gives us the time we need to get to know everyone. Later, they stomp on the gas, and the film rockets forward during the incredibly bloody fight scenes.

Let’s take a moment to talk about the fight scenes on display. The stunt work here isn’t reminiscent of the graceful elegance of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, nor does it feature the cool professionalism found in John Wick. Here, fighting is hard and brutal work. The characters brawl without skill or precision, and the stunt team makes every hammer blow, stabbing, and gunshot feel gory and visceral. I haven’t seen a film this unapologetically bloody in quite a while, and I appreciated the skill on display.

Eveneshen and Carrer also wrote the screenplay, which provides strong characters who make some baffling choices. They take the time to show us who Romina, Chris, and Alan are and what their points of view happen to be. I understood that Chris might be a maniac, yet he’s a totally understandable maniac. I understood why Romina didn’t just peace out of there after she heard the whole story. There were a few moments I didn’t understand, such as a character staring blankly at a door as it’s being clearly picked by baddies on the other side. I also wasn’t aware that a man could still fight effectively despite having a hammer jammed into his eye socket. Sometimes, with a film like this, you just have to roll with it.

You’ve heard of two-handers, in which a movie is anchored by a duo. Here, we have a…um…three-hander for the majority of the film. I wondered if, after a few minutes in, I’d be irritated by Nick Smyth’s performance as Chris. He does a great deal of yelling, spitting, and lunging, and once you know why, it all makes sense. Chris is a guy who’s reached rock bottom and is determined to do one thing. Colin Paradine’s Alan is slick and cerebral, and we see him playing someone used to being in control desperately trying to regain it. There are a few times Lora Burke’s role as Romina feels thankless, and she’s often standing around wondering exactly what she’s gotten herself into. Still, Burke does a nice job playing an ordinary woman caught up in a very extraordinary evening.

Someone out there is going to watch For the Sake of Vicious and nitpick like a mofo. It’s not that kind of movie and not a puzzle to be solved. Instead, it’s a piece of grand guignol filmmaking, a blood feast reveling in brutality and executed with precision and talent. As long as you know what you’re getting into, you’ll likely find that this little film makes a big impact.

*For a wildly entertaining read about the craft, check out The True Adventures of the World’s Greatest Stuntman by Vic Armstrong.

Tim Brennan Movie Critic

Tim has been alarmingly enthusiastic about movies ever since childhood. He grew up in Boulder and, foolishly, left Colorado to study Communications in Washington State. Making matters worse, he moved to Connecticut after meeting his too-good-for-him wife. Drawn by the Rockies and a mild climate, he triumphantly returned and settled down back in Boulder County. He's written numerous screenplays, loves hiking, and embarrassed himself in front of Samuel L. Jackson. True story.

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