Hyena (2014) DVD Review

hyenaHyena (UK, 2014)

Dir. Gerard Johnson

Starring. Peter Ferdinando, Stephen Graham, Elisa Lasowski, Myanna Buring, Neil Maskell

UK DVD release July 6th 2015 from Metrodome Distribution.

Synopsis. For years, a corrupt ‘task force’ has been making a living out of pocketed drugs and deals with local gangs in London. But the walls are closing in, with an embittered Internal Investigator watching their every move. To make things worse, long standing allies in the Turkish mob are being picked off by a brutal Albanian people trafficking gang with no inclination to cooperate with anyone, forcing their leader Michael into a arrangement that could have deadly repercussions for those close to him.

Inspired by a chance meeting with a hard partying, off duty CID officer, Writer/Director Gerard Johnson had allegedly been developing a story about corrupt policemen for around 10 years. The film bears the fruits of such long development process, from it’s fully developed ensemble to evocative location work. Johnson goes to painstaking effort to portray the “real” London, or the one many choose not to see. The almost intrusive tracking shots following Ferdinando’s Michael as he navigates the city’s underbelly recall Alan Clarke’s seminal ‘Elephant’. The unsentimental, subjective camera is rarely more than a couple of ft away from him. Trouble is never far away either…

His city is barely visible, drenched in artificial light, from a balcony view lit by London’s night-time ambience to the deep red of a backstreet strip club. There are few scenes of broad daylight. Rarely in recent British cinema has the visual style of a film reflected the character’s state of mind more evocatively than it does here- the compromise between light and dark is at the centre of Michael’s internal conflict. Even the film’s credits are a barely visible dark blue on black..

hyena2It would be hard to talk about the success of ‘Hyena’ without acknowledging the film’s central tour de force performance. Ferdinando brilliantly channels both Harvey Keitel’s crumbling hubris in ‘Bad Lieutenant’ & the jaded resignation of Ben Gazzara’s doomed club owner in Cassavetes’s ‘Killing Of A Chinese Bookie’- both films Johnson claimed were in his mind during production in a recent interview with Trevor Johnston in Sight & Sound (Mar 2015). But Ferdinando’s muscular, vulnerable turn has its own unique energy. In a brutal, disorientating early scene, Michael hides in a furniture shop as his Turkish informer/associate is brutalised by two Albanian heavies. The fear and panic in his eyes are hardly typical of the calm & collected persona you’d expect from a film heavily influenced by the French crime films of Jean Pierre Melville. There’s an expression on his face, which will surely be coined ‘The Ferdinando’, of self-assured hubris, trying and failing to stop his lip from wobbling. He knows he’s met his match with this “new breed of criminal”. Michael’s is a fractured masculinity, a bad man who expects redemption but understands how far away it lies. He’s the titular ‘hyena’, who’s greatest talent is survival. The unconventional final scene plays with this idea to brilliant effect.

The richly realised array of characters that fill out Johnson’s world are strongly reminiscent of a Melville ensemble. Stephen Graham & Richard Dormer are suitably vile counterpoints as vengeful Police Force insiders with Michael in their sights, whilst non-professionals playing the Albanian Kabashi Brothers are a jointly terrifying screen presence. Buring and Maskell are solid also, as Michael’s trusted accomplices. But, arguably the most essential piece of the jigsaw is Elisa Lasowski’s tragic prostitute-turned secretary Ariana.

A key idea in ‘Hyena’ is that despite it’s status as a sprawling modern metropolis , London is also an intricate network of prisons, metaphorically and in one major plot strand, literally- involving a harrowing people trafficking sub-plot. The cruel sadism of the Albanian brothers is shown at its worst in their dehumanising treatment of Ariana. Johnson often holds back from the most stomach churning violence, only long enough to punctuate it with a sickening punchline. Her ordeal is unbearable to watch, but as the screenplay reminds us “…according to Home Office records, more than 4,000 trafficked girls are in the UK at any one time.”.

hyena1Johnson wanted to craft a classic crime drama, yet also a film about London as it is today, claiming that despite being a deliberate exercise in genre, he wanted the audience to consider what’s happening around them. Like the Copenhagen of Nicolas Winding Refn’s ‘Pusher’ or Scorsese’s ‘Taxi Driver’, the London of ‘Hyena’ is a place where the underbelly is far darker, and closer than we imagine.


Open Windows (2014) Review

FF bannerOpen_Windows_poster[1]Open Windows (2014)

Dir: Nacho Vigalondo

Written By: Nacho Vigalondo

Starring: Elijah Wood, Sasha Grey, Neil Maskell, Iván González

100 mins.

UK release: Frightfest 2014

Following her refusal to have dinner with a competition winner, a diva actress finds herself at the mercy of a hacker and the unsuspecting man he’s chosen to do his bidding.

Much like the similarly-themed The Den, which also screened at Frightfestthis year, Elijah Wood vehicle Open Windows is presented entirely via computer screens. Where The Den utilised this gimmick to create tension and a sense of claustrophobia, Open Windows establishes a race against time that begins almost as soon as its protagonist first logs on.

Wood, who is quickly making a name for himself in genre pictures following a star turn in Franck Khalfoun’s stunning 2012 Maniac reboot, is Nick, a normal guy who runs a website in support of popular actress Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey). After winning a competition to have dinner with Jill, Nick suddenly finds himself at the mercy of a ruthless hacker who can control pretty much any electronic device within a certain remit, including Nick’s computer, Jill’s mobile phone and every laptop in a ten mile radius. Although he’s clearly an evil genius, the hacker (voiced by Kill List’s Neil Maskell, weirdly enough) speaks with a thick Cockney accent, meaning much of his dialogue comes across a bit funnier than is perhaps intended.

Open_1[1]A decent premise is stretched slightly thin over a 100-minute running time, but Wood is an enigmatic screen presence and he does desperate, weak everyman well. Grey, last seen overacting in the rather good Would You Rather, is a good fit for the spoilt Jill, a woman who believes she’s worth far more than she is, and whose strength of character is perhaps a bit lacking. She overacts once again, even when she’s starring in the film within the film, but she seems more comfortable here at least. There’s a nod to her previous career as a porn star too, which hints that maybe she’s got a sense of humour about herself.

Written and directed by Timecrimes’ Nacho Vigalondo, who also contributed a segment to V/H/S: Viral, Open Windows is a fast-paced, understandably silly film that believes its plot is much cleverer than it actually is. The Den took a bigger risk by limiting the action to one PC monitor and one woman. Open Windows branches out by encompassing every screen in L.A. and, at times, it feels almost too inclusive. Vigaolondo may be making a point about privacy and internet security, but the film doesn’t seem to really understand either. A subplot, involving a Paris-based group of hackers, provides much-needed respite from Nick’s troubles, as the dudes in question believe him to be a legendary terrorist known as Nevada, and consistently refer to him by that title in spite of how irritated he gets. In a film that seems to take itself more seriously than is necessary, it’s a nice addition.

With a minimal score, and absolutely zero jump scares, Open Windows is a refreshingly low key thriller. There’s an inventive, albeit slightly unrealistic, twist and the tension is built remarkably well considering Wood spends most of his time talking to a various screens. The technology may be a bit out there, but it’s still fun to marvel at, even if the majority of people will roll their eyes at how easily each device is comprised – although, in the wake of the iCloud leak, it may be more true to life than we can imagine. The biggest issue is that, without giving in to the madness, it’s difficult to get lost in the narrative and there are some who will refuse to buy into the terror plot at all, because it is overcomplicated and outlandish.

Open_2[1]Open Windows is a diverting enough flick, once the required suspension of disbelief is attained, and the leads are likeable, but IT experts best steer clear – there are moments when even the most dim computer user will call bullshit over what the mysterious hacker seems to be able to control.

Rating: 6/10