Your Honour, I would like to plead guilty to the crime of liking a film by Uwe Boll and not in the guilty pleasure, so-bad-it’s-good sort of way. Rather in that “no, really, I’m serious” sort of way. Is it a great film? No. Does it have problems? Of bloody course it does. But do I also think it’s one that deserves a fair look from any judge-by-the-cover detractors, who have based early dislike on the name at the helm? Oh you bet.
I’ve been working on a short film for a little while now and haven’t had that many opportunities to go to the cinema as per my usual amount (and what I have seen I don’t think I can get a whole review out of). What I have had some time for is evenings of old DVD’s and revisiting bits and pieces from the past; one of which is the one good Uwe Boll film that I own: Rampage. No, not the blockbuster with the Rock going up against big hungry beasties, I’m talking about the nasty as hell horror action punch to the faces of GTA fans everywhere in which Brendan Fletcher plays a mass shooter who spends much of the plot gunning down innocent civilians; not presented by Disney then?
We live in a world where the consensus of the tasteless is beginning to regress. We got over the initial shock of the video nasties, then we opened our eyes and realised all the people who caused the fuss, proclaiming that violent movies would bring down civilisation, were fucking idiots who deserve to have their graves desecrated and names vilified throughout history. But now we’re reverting back to that mindset because everything ever said and thought is just offensive to everyone now so oh well, never mind.
I say that because, believe it or not, I think Rampage may be the kind of film we need in our society, yes, even nowadays, in fact: especially nowadays. With all the mass shootings going on all the time and those with the power to do something about it shrugging everything off with a smile like it’s not their problem and everyone’s just being silly for asking, it could be up to films like this to give everyone the shock they need – why exactly? Well, I don’t think you’re supposed to like it; at least not in the traditional sense.
This is not a pleasant film to watch content-wise (which can only work if the surface works beforehand), Boll went and pulled his finger out with this one so on a technical level the film is actually kind of alright, it doesn’t look like the camera was simply pointed at the actors while they spout lines from an early stage practice script like House of the Dead or whatever. It feels like he actually made a film, like… a real film, with on beat editing, stylish camera work and decent performances, but also with a thematic intention, which is to deliver a brutal commentary; even if that means bordering on deliberately unwatchable. It’s weird, he’s proving here that he actually knows his stuff on a fundamental level so what happened with all of his other efforts?
The story goes thusly: Brendan Fletcher plays Bill, your regular ol’ average Joe whose parents think it’s time he moved out, he doesn’t get on with his boss, he’s got a rambling political realist for a best friend, who likes preaching online about the problems of the world, and he seems to bump into contagiously grumpy people at every turn; his life doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. That is until one day in which Bill reveals he hasn’t been as lacking in ambition as everyone thought by dressing head to toe in body armour, grabbing a couple of machine guns, and going out on the town to shoot, stab and blow up pretty much everyone in sight.
That’s it, guy has dull life so guy grabs guns and kills everyone. You wanna know why I think this film works? It doesn’t ever try to be cool or fun, it’s not really an action film, it’s a horror. The rampage of the title isn’t supposed to make you ooh and aah, the minimal use of slo-mo is there to drive home disturbance instead of emphasising any kind of badass-ness and there isn’t a single moment in which you’ll catch yourself cheering the “hero” on – even when the victim is someone who once wronged him. Our protagonist proves early that, while we’re stuck with him, he’s not going to be the most likeable of leads, you don’t approve of his actions and definitely do not sympathise with him. A few moments during the rampage come to mind in which the word “evil” has seldom been more appropriate, such as Bill calmly joking with a cornered woman while he reloads before shooting her to death the same way he would lock his front door.
Boll shot the thing with a shaky hand-held style and surprisingly realistic sounding improvised dialogue that makes everything feel spontaneous and as if the camera itself doesn’t know what’s going to happen next. This is very different to what his usual kitchen sink style of filmmaking is like, it’s crazy to even think it and I’ve already touched on it but wow, Boll actually shut up, sat down and gave thought to the thing – thought about aesthetics and the boundaries of style consistency. The first 45 minutes deal with Bill’s uneventful life as he goes through the motions but every now and then we get flashes of his plan in his head, probably the only thing I don’t like about the film; that and an explosion effect that is just not very convincing at all.
I get that Bill is supposed to be losing his grip and it’s an OK idea to show him thinking of the plan with shots of people dying, I mean the film’s called rampage and have you seen the poster? It’s hardly a surprise when bullets start flying, but there’s something about the way it’s done I don’t like that much, we see glimpses of latter scenes that don’t out right spoil them per say but still do feel like they’re giving too much away. It’s not just shots of nameless faceless victims falling but really specific stuff that it really doesn’t make sense to show. That’s about it though, I’d say everything else is smooth sailing.
As for the rampage itself, how does it do as a sequence? It begins with Bill suiting up and getting ready, probably one of my favourite scenes. He checks his outfit in the mirror and I nervously laugh when it is revealed how short he is, making him more human before he commences, and when bodies start falling it makes for one of the best and most haunting sequences of Boll’s career. The sight of innocent civilians dropping like flies the way they do here makes for some very uncomfortable viewing, no flash, no fun, just people getting shot and dying and it borders on nightmare inducing.
The scenes that follow begin to vary and mess with your expectations. Neither one in a beauty salon or another guiltily funny one in a bingo hall will be quickly forgotten, there’s a scene where Bill robs a bank because he may as well while committing mass murder I guess (I’m covering spoilers here), and it contains some pretty nasty shit; I won’t lie. All practical explosions that follow the not-so-great CGI one are superbly well edited (especially around a surprised police car), Brendan Fletcher absolutely crushed it as the unlikeable lead and, thinking about it, I really aught to get onto those sequels if they’re anything like this one.
Rampage may not be a great film given its irritating few issues but what works well really, really does work well. Jessica Derooij’s musical score is brilliant, the stunt work is brutal, the kills are just horrible and… yeah, well done Uwe Boll, trying his hand at a bit of social commentary and succeeding, who knew? I recommend you give Rampage a go, what’s the harm? It works, damnit! And when a broken clock is right for that one second it’s fun to point it out. Does this make me a lunatic? YES but who cares?
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