The home invasion genre of contemporary horror is enjoying something of a renaissance amongst indie filmmakers. Like its sibling, the haunted house mystery, it's a type of cinematic storytelling reliant on a series of familiar beats: turning points in the unravelling of domestic normality. For the Sake of Vicious makes no pretence that it's reinventing a proven formula. Instead, the filmmakers' efforts focus on crafting a heart-pounding and stomach-turning thriller. It's a movie that recognises the importance of earning its bloody and explosive payoffs through the nerve-jangling tension that precedes them.
Returning home from a tough day shift at the hospital, nurse Romina is preparing for an evening of Halloween fun with her young son. She's horrified to discover two men holed up inside her house, one holding the other at gunpoint as a hostage. Shaken into survival mode, Romina is soon locked into a fight for her life with these inexplicable intruders. Amidst the high-jinx of trick-or-treat night, the crashes, bangs and shrieks of brutal hand-to-hand fighting attract no one's attention. And Romina soon discovers that her Halloween horrors have barely begun.
It's difficult to reveal any more of the plot without diluting the film's impact. For the Sake of Vicious is best enjoyed with no knowledge of what happens after the first five minutes. Suffice to say that the motives of the various uninvited house guests come under increasing scrutiny as the situation in the house worsens.
After the opening hospital scene, the film moves to the increasingly claustrophobic setting of a small suburban house. Aside from key flashbacks, the film unfolds in a linear fashion and in something close to real-time, which reinforces the feeling of genuine jeopardy.
The film's intensity comes from the visceral quality of the close combat violence. But Reese Eveneshen's muscular script recognises that blood-spatter and punctured flesh is not sufficient: the drama needs well-drawn characters if the audience is to care about the outcome of the bloody conflicts. Amongst the small cast, Lora Burke is continually impressive as the young medic pulled into a situation far beyond her control and in which the stakes are impossibly high. Hers is a spirited and gutsy performance, and she's a protagonist who's impossible not to hope survives the chaos of the night.
The frenzied hands-on violence of For the Sake of Vicious makes for a difficult watch at times, as everyday domestic objects are turned into improvised weapons. When STARBURST first reviewed the film, we noted how refreshing it was to "see 'normal' people react in natural ways". This is a script that recognises that ordinary folk don't 'suddenly become superheroes' just because they're under threat. The heightened on-screen brutality may not always come across as entirely realistic, but the assault-and-battery never strays into the gratuitous and there's no attempt to glamorize the trauma.
Backed by an edgy, driving score, and in-combat sound effects guaranteed to make you wince, For the Sake of Vicious is not going to win any awards for originality. However, with its welcome focus on resilient female agency (rather than female victimhood), this is an unpredictable thrill ride and an exemplar of small-scale domestic horror filmmaking.
For the Sake of Vicious is available on digital in the UK.