Tuesday, 2 April 2013

A Day of Violence

Director: Darren Ward
Writer: Darren Ward
Producers: Darren Ward and nine other folks
Cast: Nick Rendell, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Victor D Thorn
Country: UK
Year of release: 2009
Reviewed from: screener
Website: www.giallofilms.com

A Day of Violence begins with a night of sex; a three-minute love-making scene between gangster Mitchell Parker (Darren Ward regular Nick Rendell, who played the same character in Bordello Death Tales) and his wife which, to be honest, seems entirely redundant except for a couple of lines of dialogue right at the end which show they have moved somewhere and are starting a new life.

A caption then tells us it’s ‘18 months later’. We get a good look at Mitchell’s dead body on a hospital trolley, a gaping wound in his chest. There is absolutely no doubt that he is dead. Another caption then tells us ‘two days earlier’ so, five minutes into the film, we’re already in a flashback within a flash forward.

Don’t worry though: from now on the narrative is almost entirely chronological and there won’t be another caption till near the end.

The McGuffin in Darren Ward’s latest movie is £100,000. Mitchell is sent by local little big man Casey (The Demon Within director Harold Gasnier) to recover this debt from a local drug dealer, Hopper, played by Giovanni Lombardo Radice with the most extraordinary beard. Radice (aka John Morghen) was the star of such spaghetti nightmares as Cannibal Apocalypse, City of the Living Dead, Cannibal Ferox, Stage Fright, The Church and Phantom of Death. He also turned up recently in Gangs of New York and the remake of The Omen.

Mitchell has already been offered, and accepted, a new job working for a bigger crime lord, Boswell (Victor D Thorn, who looks like George Lucas and sounds like the voice of the Lottery). So he kills Hopper, pockets the hundred grand and tells Casey to fuck off.

Mitchell has been recruited to Boswell’s gang via his old mate Smithy (Steve Humphries) who doesn’t last long because Boswell believes he’s been skimming money. Smithy is strung upside-down, beaten up and then castrated. I didn’t run an image of this particular prosthetic effect when Darren sent it to me and I’m damned if I want to see it now so I closed my eyes during this scene. I mean, bravo to make-up effects supervisor Alastair Vardy (LD50, Hellbreeder, Intergalactic Combat) for a realistic severed wedding tackle but, frankly, the scene would have been just as uncomfortable - and just as meaningful - with the actual gore off-screen.

Understandably unkeen on Boswell’s uncompromising management style, Mitchell finds himself in deep shit when it turns out that his first assignment is to recover £100,000 owed by a drug dealer named Hopper - who was presumably somehow ripping off both mobsters simultaneously. Accompanied by a thug named Chisel (Christopher Fosh. who had small roles in Mutant Chronicles, Jack Says, X-Men 3 and V for Vendetta), Mitchell has to fake no knowledge of Hopper, show surprise at the state of the flat (and of Hopper) and go along with Chisel’s theory that Smithy must have taken the money.

Which leads to Smithy’s house and his wife Suzy (Helena Martin: Zombies of the Night, Colin). Mitchell explains that Smithy is dead then Chisel tortures Suzy to find out where the money is - which of course she doesn’t know because Smithy had nothing to do with it. Mitchell can only stand by and see his friend’s wife suffer for so long before snapping but, somewhat foolishly, he just leaves Chisel unconscious, not dead. And what Mitchell doesn’t realise is that Hopper’s phone, which Chisel picked up in the flat, has a video clip of Mitchell stashing £100,000 into some bags which Hopper filmed (for some reason) just before he was killed.

Mitchell goes on the run, gets captured, gets beaten up but then escapes when no-one’s looking (largely through, it must be said, not being tied up quite strongly enough). At this point he turns into some sort of superman. Despite having (a) been suspended by his wrists for an hour or more, (b) had the shit kicked out of him, and (c) clearly eaten too many pies during recent years, the blood-caked Mitchell manages to kill several of Boswell’s top goons and escape. As well-done as this action sequence is, Boswell and his gang do suddenly seem to have the gun skills of the average Imperial Stormtrooper.

There is still another 25 minutes or so to go. We know that Mitchell will end up dead but right now he’s still moving, so something else must happen. What happens is that he goes to visit his estranged wife Abbi (Tina Barnes: Bane, The Witches Hammer, Bordello Death Tales, The Hunt for Gollum) and we finally have some justification for the whole flash-forward structure and occasional brief flashbacks to a car journey that Mitchell made with a teenage girl named Holly (Bryony Meachen) who I thought was his daughter but is in fact his step-daughter.

We now find out why Mitchell wanted the £100,000 and why he didn’t just take the easy option of collecting it from his flat and ‘finding’ it when Boswell wanted it. And although this gives some slight level of humanity to Mitchell, it doesn’t alleviate the film’s most fundamental weakness - which is that there isn’t a single sympathetic character.

Every person in this film (with the possible exception of Holly) is either an amoral, violent thug or married to an amoral, violent thug. While Mitchell is clearly our nominal ‘hero’, the fact remains that he’s a cold-blooded killer who doesn’t even observe the principal of ‘honour among thieves’, stealing from his bosses for his own purposes. The fact that he isn’t as horrible as Boswell or Chisel or the others doesn’t make him a sympathetic character that we can root for, nor does an odd, single bit of voice-over narration in which Mitchell attempts to justify his profession.

And of course we know he’s going to die at the end anyway, although we don’t know how or why and I’ll grant that the epilogue where Mitchell gets killed was a neat, ironic twist, only let down by a caption saying it is ‘six months later’ which contradicts the previous ‘two days earlier’ caption.

This is a film about deeply unpleasant people doing extremely violent things to other deeply unpleasant people. So while they may all get their just desserts, there’s no-one whom we actually want to ‘win’ - or even survive. This is not to take away from the qualities of Darren Ward’s film which is a huge step up from his last feature, Sudden Fury, not least because of the intervening ten years of independent film-making technology which Ward has added to a decade of additional experience. A Day of Violence has excellent production values, good cinematography, good editing and smart direction. The script is mostly very good indeed apart from a tendency to info-dump in the final act as Mitchell confronts Abbi. The acting is a little wooden in places but never embarrassingly so.

But this simply isn’t a film that I would ever watch by choice. Let me be entirely upfront and honest: I just don’t like films about violent, aggressive, ugly people being violent, aggressive and ugly. There’s no extravagant style here, no panache - certainly no martial arts or other flashy moves or anything fantastic (in any sense) - which undoubtedly makes this more realistic than many comparable movies but that doesn’t make it more appealing to me. Nevertheless, Darren has kept me informed of the production, sent me photos and posted me two screeners because the first one was damaged. He’s been very helpful and pro-active so I feel an obligation to return the favour. I’ve watched the film and I’m prepared to critique it.

But I don’t want to watch it again and I certainly can’t say that I enjoyed it in any way and frankly I don’t want to watch a film like it again. So if you’ve made a similarly brutal, violent film, please don’t assume that I’ll want to watch it because I won’t. Send me vampires, send me giant ants, send me kung fu, send me slick film noir thrillers, send me mad scientists or intriguing documentaries or comedies or cartoons. But no more violent gangsters please.

It just seems that recently I’ve sat through so many films which were - for all their undoubted professionalism - about brutal, realistic, sadistic violence. I wouldn’t want to stop people making these films or stop other people watching them. But I do this site as a hobby, just because I enjoy it, so from now on I’m not reviewing any more films that aren’t the sort of films that I enjoy. I’m simply too old and too busy to spend an hour and half watching ugly people being violent and then spend another couple of evenings writing about how well photographed that ugly violence was.

Right now, as I type this, I’m not accepting any screeners because I’m trying to clear a massive TBW pile which includes ADOV. But when I do start accepting screeners again, I’ll watch no more of these, however good they are. I’ll plug them on my news page if asked, but I won’t sit and watch them. Sorry. My site, my rules.

This isn’t Darren’s fault and should not be taken as a reflection on Darren’s film, which is technically and artistically very fine indeed - a powerful and disturbing 21st century horror film. I just would rather not be disturbed in this way!

Other criminal low-life are played by Peter Rnic (who was a zombie in Shaun of the Dead), Forbes KB (Jack Says, Kung Fu Flid), Pete Morgan (Kung Fu Flid, Just for the Record) and an assortment of shaven-headed extras. A small army of producers includes composer Dave Andrews who also scored George Romero exec-produced documentary Into the Dark: Exploring the Horror Film. Cinematographer John Raggett also shot Bane, The Witches Hammer and Nature Morte; Darren Ward handled his own editing.

MJS rating: B+
review originally posted 28th September 2009

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