DIRECTOR Ryan Lee Driscoll WRITER Ryan Lee Driscoll STARS Jonathan Hansler; Andrea Gordon; Nicola Posener DVD 30 July
Winner of the Best Screenplay award at the Bram Stoker International Film Festival, Axed does show a degree of promise at points, but it must be said that the prize in question is a tad baffling, for what really is not an ambitious story, nor original format. Using the current economic climate as backdrop, the premise revolves around a sacked father and husband who snaps under the resultant pressure. Not entirely unrealistic… but not an award-winning setup, particularly when not inclusive of much subplot.
Opening with the immediate aftermath of that job loss, the film takes little time to reach its raison d’être, Kurt Wendell announcing a day off for the whole family, driving his wife and two teenage children to a remote country house. Having already shown himself to hold a deep, resentful anger, earlier admonishing his son for being weak enough to be bullied at school, it is clear that his intentions are not benign, particularly when convincing them to close their eyes so as to hide their exact location. The acting on display thus far is largely poor, yet the film is intriguing nonetheless; at this point, we do not know if we are about to witness a psychological or more visceral tale.
Really speaking, the film attempts both approaches. As Kurt tends to his tied-up, bloody victim in the attic of the house — it transpires this character was his boss — the family wait downstairs, pondering how long his good mood will last. He taunts by giving gifts to leave no doubt as to his low opinion, then forces them to adhere to happy family rules as the man upstairs screams his way through dinner. Following this, well, the inevitable revenge on the nuclear unit that has been frustrating Kurt for long before his job loss, his wife having been cheating on him, his son shaming him by possible homosexuality, his daughter a little tarty. No, Kurt is not the nicest of characters…
There is some style to be had here, one shot in particular very nice in an alternative take on the traditional family portrait, the four framed by the headboard of the bed Kurt’s initial victim is lying upon. Stills of Kurt’s anguished/enraged face for the opener, closing in on the eyes, also a nice touch, although this does imply a certain comic-style violence to come, which doesn’t materialise. Attention to detail, often neglected in low-budget fare, is also included, Kurt’s face covered in a film of sweat en route to the country, showing the man’s nerves as he straddles the line between normal, albeit draconian mindset and murderous monster.
What ultimately lets Axed down is a lack of direction after Kurt has revealed his intentions. The teenagers’ failure to stop him despite several opportunities provides the usual frustration in what could be interpreted as comment on the deep-rooted strength of the bond of blood, but is more about stretching the run-time. And, there’s the aforementioned acting. Jonathan Hansler is reasonable as Kurt, mustering creepy at points, but he has little to play against, Christopher Rithin almost laughably bad as his son. A basic script exacerbates this.
All in, not a bad attempt for Ryan Lee Driscoll’s second feature, but a little more thought to the playing out of his story is required.