Trigger Warning: This review discusses rape, sexual assault and violent crime.
Casting aside the escapist thrills seen in celebrated shorts like Dancer and Night Shift, director John Balazs is first and foremost a filmmaker, and with an eye toward storytelling in as many genres and tones he can harness. His latest dramatic thriller, Rage, inherently exemplifies this, tackling the strenuous journey of a severely damaged married couple on the brink, and a detective, relentless in his pursuits of justice.
Rage treads along with a strong cast and equally discernible overtones elucidated in the film’s gruesome visuals, story angle and multi-layered drama. Michael J. Kospiah’s script brings a fierce challenge to moviegoers to imagine victimhood with an intrinsic lens, paving the way for an introspective viewpoint into what makes our characters tick – an aim that treads carefully while fleshing out the most out of the film’s main actors, principally Matt Theo, Hayley Beveridge, Natascha Maymon, Tottie Goldsmith, Richard Norton and Jasper Bagg.
Second to some of the film’s most pivotal ingredients is the score from Kai Chen Lim, persuasively delivered as each scene carries over to the next, in conjunction with Ben Luck’s cinematography. The latter is certainly characteristic for the film’s prologue; a close-up of Noah (Theo), his face mildly covered in dirt after digging a ditch, and a wideshot of him and wife, Madeline (Beveridge), whose resolve seems more prevalent than her husband’s, just before he sets fire to the doomed item in the hole.
A frictious, albeit peaceful morning between Noah and Madeline signals the start of early events to kick off the story. In the midst of their terse rituals onward to the day’s commute, what neither of them know is that they’re being watched by two maniacal assailants. Evening arrives and Madeline is home alone with cheap wine and her sister, Rebecca (Nic Stevens) visiting, and before they know it, the two masked lurkers have descended violently into the home, trapping Madeline in the bathroom in the midst of a shower. Noah, fresh from a questionable stint at the workplace, arrives in untimely fashion, stumbling upon the invaders with little time to save Madeline before getting shot several times and left for dead.
Weeks have passed while Noah and Madeline are hospitalized in seperate facilities. The circumstances are even more grave for Noah, now tasked with coming to terms with his own shameful misgivings, and the role they’ve played in his marital neglect, all while mitigating with Madeline’s brutal rape, and the multi-layered trauma that has rendered her mute, fearful of the outside world, and even her own husband. Incidentally, the crime also commences a new, dark and bleak chapter in the continuing saga of John Bennett (Norton), a detective whose own history is troubled by a string of rape-related incidents.
While maintaining its underlying whodunit-style crime mystery arc, Rage places much of its focus on the profile of Noah’s own introspection, and the struggles that await him while living day-to-day with the guilt and shame of failing as a husband, with the hopes of redeeming himself. He’s unsure of what to do for Madeline, and with his own resolve, it’s a starting point for his own personal growth and possible redemption.
John’s own efforts have left him at an impasse as well, with Madeline being a key witness and unable to talk or interact with anyone apart from her own parents. Madeline’s puzzling affliction forces both Noah and John to cope with the psychological complexities of being a rape victim, and to understand the entrenching gravity her own healing process is going to take before either of them can have a breakthrough.
Rage bares an explosive and palpable component in its storytelling, combining stellar drama and graphic imagery, with a sleight-of-hand element that further enhances the catastrophic and foreboding overtones. Par for the course is the interwoven drama between Noah and his co-worker, Sophia (Maymon), Madeline and her psychiatrist, Elizabeth (Tottie Goldsmith), and Randy (Bagg), a shady ex-cop-turned-private investigator with a magnifying lens on the alleged corruption in his former department, and a bone to pick with John in the wake of their long lost and withered friendship.
The same goes explicitly for the film’s emotive epicenter, embodied in Beveridge’s arresting performance as Madeline, the journey she conveys with her character’s slow progression back into society, and the dark turn it all takes by the third act. What remains to be seen is all up to the viewer by the end credits, imploring questions of morale, healing, justice and how an ideal concept like love can truly flourish at all in a relationship that’s fully become a deadly, secretive shadow of its former self.
Theo and Beveridge are phenomenal on screen, for the kind of subject matter that Rage takes on, and Norton is as brilliant as ever as the stoic detective who wants nothing more than to vindicate himself and get his man. For its two-hour and twenty three-minute duration, Rage succeeds where some directors fall short or simply fail in delivering a slow burn-style narrative feature. Rage self-nurtures with solid performances, patient direction and a vision – unhindered by the need for filler – one that gets its message across to the viewer for an enduring experience that easily translates with rawness and sheer gravitas.
Production companies: Prima Lux Films, La Rosa Productions
Cast: Matt Theo, Hayley Beveridge, Richard Norton, Jasper Bagg, Nic Stevens, Tottie Goldsmith, Natasha Maymon
Director: John Balazs
Writer: Michael J. Kospiah
Producer: Vikki Blinks, Marlane Ghmed
Executive producer: Anthony Delleore, Adam La Rosa, Matt Theo
Director of photography: Ben Luck
Production designer: Stephen Wolf
Music: Kai Chen Lim
Sales: Circus Road Films
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.