With a title like Savage, certain connotations emerge. Sam Kelly’s feature debut, inspired by true events, brings us a brutal portrayal of gang culture in New Zealand dripping with animalistic prowess and grit – think Sons of Anarchy minus the bikes and Charlie Hunnam (sadly). It’s hard not to think of power and violence in the same thought when it’s so ingrained into our societies; it’s equally as difficult not to conjure up images of people ripping each other apart, tearing at the essence of the world we reside in until there’s nothing but a terribly apparent hierarchy that’s near impossible to infiltrate. What Savage brings is an instant power struggle; the quick resort to violence because you think everyone is out to get you which rings unsettling true to our world right now.
Leather clad, tattooed and bearded bulky Danny (Jack Ryan) saunters on screen and it’s pretty apparent he’s man that gets what he wants through sheer force. As someone’s hand is smashed with a hammer, we know who has the power here, well some of the power. As we are taken on a road, split into three parts of this man’s history a primitive tale of an abused child, troubled teen resulting in hardcore gang involvement unfolds. The utterly relentless ride we endure, reflects the emotional turmoil our lead character battles, whilst giving us a hefty insight into gang culture. As family disowns him, the gang becomes his salvation, albeit member Tug comes at him from every angle pushing Danny to make some all-important life changes.
Although the flashbacks provide us with the knowledge we need, there is a lazy feel about them, almost as if someone in the writing room said, let’s put some flashbacks in to tell the viewer what’s what…it aided the narrative forward, yet this tactic allowed cliché to detract from the hellish upbringing this guy went through and ultimately why he is the man is today. We are given scenes meant to give us a sense of who these people actual are when all we get is a bunch of facades that make the viewer disengage leading to absolutely no empathy for anyone we see on screen. Flashbacks of an abusive upbringing, awkward family dinners and things that no one should endure ever in their life simply feel forced and placed in such a stereotypical way that if done more subtlety the narrative would have much more clout.
Profanities are thrown around in a slapdash way rather than a slick Tarantino/ Scorsese manner adding to the already old fashioned, almost archaic morals of ‘Gang code’. One line in particular burrow’s its way into your head; ‘Society has fucked us – be a fucking Savage’, speaks so much truth and is laced throughput this exploration even from the films first moments when we see a man singing and bring beer with his mates smiling away after he has just committed an unforgiving brutal act of violence. The representation of women needing a man by her side is nothing new and it’s here we see the true primitive nature in all things they explore, including intimacy. In fact, it’s this confident woman that questions Danny’s dominant demina, allowing him to actually examine the reasons why he has facial tattoos and acts in certain ways. This isn’t a mask, this is who he is; a product of his environment through better or worse, but this is who he is.
This landscape once the home of Middle Earth is invaded by an incredibly harsh reality of growing up in gang culture and what’s expected of you – no matter the cost. Dialogue hits home and the web of violence that’s spun constantly throughout is somewhat vital, but becomes relentlessly predictable.
Savage is engaging enough but doesn’t offer anything new. It’s refreshingly raw tones are a welcomed with open arms after the absence of film during the pandemic, but as soon as you have seen one act of brutality, you’ve seen them all.
Savage is in cinemas 11th September!