Gabriel Carrer & Reese Eveneshen/ Canada/ 2020/ 81 mins

This gonzo Canadian home invasion actions thriller has a long fuse, but when it explodes it’s something to behold. Writers and directors Gabriel Carrer and Reese Eveneshen slice their film in two neat slices of tension and carnage as a trio of strangers thrust into a dangerous situation suddenly find things getting a whole lot worse. It may abandon what depth is established in an intriguing first half, but it impresses hugely in its depiction of blistering, chaotic violence and sustained bloodshed.

Nurse Romina (Lora Burke) comes home on Hallowe’en after a shift to find wide-eyed madman Chris (Nick Smyth) holding her landlord Alan (Colin Paradine). It’s only the beginning of an evening more terrifying than any number of ghosts and ghouls. Chris is accusing the badly battered Alan of carrying out an atrocious act against his family. Alan protests his innocence, but some vengeful business associates have tracked them down and are about to force the the trio into an odd thrupple defensive unit as they invade Romina’s home.

The film’s high point is undoubtedly the gruelling, no-holds-barred nature of the violence. Carrer and Eveneshen don’t shy away from some splatter film-level exsanguination, but the fights are grimly realistic in their claustrophobic desperation. In the confined space of Romina’s little home, survival doesn’t come down to strength and speed, but who can improvise the quickest, and who can inflict the most devastating wound first. And what wounds they are. Alex Tong‘s cinematography finds clarity amid the chaos and foregrounds the great practical effects work as knives gouge ragged holes in necks and claw hammers are driven into eye sockets. He also makes use of inventive lighting to add some variety to the relentless second half, little touches that keep things from becoming a slog.

Those that are searching for a little thematic depth to their carnage may be best to look elsewhere, however. The three central performances go a long way to adding layers to a central trio characterised only by their relationship to each other. Romina is a nurse and a mother. Chris is nursing an unbearable trauma that’s sent him into a Nic Cage-esque swivel-eyed psychosis, and Alan may be guilty of perhaps the worst crime imaginable – which is perhaps why you don’t feel quite so bad as he takes more punishment than perhaps any film character in recent memory. Beyond that they’re reduced to the bare bones of their current situation. This is more than can be said for the nameless invaders, anonymised further by masks and cycle helmets. As soon as you see the white of an actual eye, there’s the handle of a hammer jutting from it. They appear to have something to do with Alan, but motivation seems to be as lacking as personality here.

For a short, sharp shock of a movie, For the Sake of Vicious more than satisfies, albeit on a completely surface level. It’s likely that most will have a clear preference for one of the film’s very distinct halves over the hour. The first that holds its cards (and hammers) closer to its chest, and works like a sadistic game of cat and mouse in the mould of the Israeli shocker Big Bad Wolves; or the brutal second half, which takes its cues from the pulsating Green Room as it plunges normal(ish) people into a feral battle with seasoned killers. To be fair, both are very good examples of their form. Unlike the marauding goons piling through Romina’s doors and windows, Carrer and Eveneshen burst in, do the job, and take no prisoners along the way.

Available On-demand from Mon 19 Apr 2021