With a title like 'The Aggression Scale,' you tend to approach such material with certain reasonable expectations. There best be a great deal of blood and gore, clear acts of violence which escalate out of control, and someone in the movie better be mentally disturbed to satisfy the aggression part. For a good part of the film, relatively-young director Steven C. Miller delivers in this respect, creating what could only be described as the R-rated version of 'Home Alone' — minus the budget, the acting and the production value. It's a bloody and energetic joyride that lives up to the title's implications without overstaying its welcome.
Clocking in at 85 minutes, the action thriller doesn't waste any time, opening with a shockingly brutal murder of a woman as she enters her front door and a strange man takes a polaroid of her fresh corpse. It makes for an engaging start since the unidentified killer moves on to three more victims while giving viewers small scraps of the overall plot and introducing the mob boss who hired him. That particular scene reunites Ray Wise, acting the Mafioso, and Dana Ashbrook, the freak with a fetish for taking pictures of dead bodies. In 1990, they both starred in David Lynch's 'Twin Peaks' where Wise played Laura Palmer's father, Leland, and Ashbrook was Laura's boyfriend, Bobby.
Once it's understood Lloyd (Ashbrook) is in search of the people believed to have stolen money from Bellavance (Wise), the film switches to a family moving into their new home, which is also where it starts to drag. Bill and Maggie (Boyd Kestner and Lisa Rotondi) are recently married with teen children from previous marriages. As is always the case, no one, except the newlywed couple, is getting along, and 17-year-old Lauren (Fabianne Therese) makes it known she hates her new life. Unfortunately, the more time we spend with this family, listening to their petty problems, the more it starts to become a chore to pay attention. It's a dreadfully boring attempt to add some dramatic element to the story.
But as soon as Lloyd's team of ruthless killers, which includes Derek Mears from the 'Friday the 13th' remake and an older Jacob Reynolds of 'Gummo,' interrupts the family bonding, things suddenly start to pick up. Only, the men didn't expect dad to have an emotionally disturbed son (Ryan Hartwig) with a history of violent behavior. As in the 'Home Alone' series, the fun is in watching little mischievous boys devise clever booby-traps to foil the intentions of burglars. The same goes for this movie, except that this kid is actually well-read in wilderness survival skills, causing the bad guys some serious physical harm before killing them.
Although 'The Aggression Scale' opened in a couple film festivals a little while ago, the low-budget actioner makes its official premiere on Blu-ray. As a direct-to-video flick, the movie is surprisingly better than what is commonly anticipated of its type, adding a slight twist to the home-invasion thriller that's interesting and fun. It strains a bit in the middle and pushes plausibility on occasion, but for the most part, Miller delivers the goods with tense excitement. It's lean, dark and violent with a nice, brisk pace that finishes with a satisfying conclusion that unexpectedly left a smile on my face.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Anchor Bay Entertainment brings 'The Aggression Scale' to Blu-ray as Region A locked, BD25 disc inside a blue eco-case keepcase. After a couple skippable trailers, a standard main menu window pops up with a photo still.
'The Aggression Scale' takes out its hostility on Blu-ray with this squeaky-clean 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.40:1). Although the presentation comes with a visibly digitized appearance, the transfer is highly-detailed, revealing every hair, wrinkle and speck of blood on the faces of the cast. The interior of the house is crystal-clear with strong shadow delineation while the outdoor shots display sharp lines in the surrounding foliage. Black levels waver some and can look a bit drab in a few scenes, but they're fairly deep and true for the most part. Contrast is also nicely balanced with excellent, clean whites, giving the picture a decent pop, but highlights generally seem overblown, ruining the finer details in the background. The color palette, too, is a tad oversaturated, especially in the primaries, but it's pretty consistent and natural, making for a very good high-def picture.
Given the movie's title and theme, this Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is not all that aggressive. Don't get me wrong, it's still good and satisfying design, but it never quite delivers the aural impact it seems to think it does.
Much of the action takes place in the fronts with great dialogue reproduction, although there are a couple times early on where conversations sound pretty hollow with a noticeable echo that reminds of the production's low-budget origins. Channel separation is appreciable with great, fluid movement across the soundstage, generating a decently broad image. Dynamic range, however, seems somewhat limited and narrow, despite maintaining good clarity detail. Bass, meanwhile, has a decent punch to it with a couple good moments of powerful LFE, but it never packs the sort of force that adequately matches the action. Gunshots, especially from the shotgun, sound impotent and wanting. Surrounds do much better with several nice atmospherics and the ringing echoes of gunfire to open up the soundfield, yet it's not always very convincing or the least bit immersive.
All in all, the lossless mix is still good, but nothing to get all excited about.
'Aggression Scale' hits Blu-ray with only one supplement.
In spite of its low-budget origins and thin plot, 'The Aggression Scale' manages to surprise with a brisk pace that kicks off with a bang and doesn't let up during it 85-minute runtime. Adding a neat twist to the home-invasion thriller, the movie is basically a violent, R-rated version of 'Home Alone,' and a pretty entertaining one at that. The Blu-ray package arrives with a strong audio and video presentation, but only one supplement that is easily forgettable. Overall, the movie makes for a decent rental.