From reading the premise of his 2013 short, Covetous, you can sort of get why the female-led revenge narrative might stick with director Jared Bentley just a few years later. I haven’t had that conversation with him to understand first hand his mindset on the matter, but by all accounts, he’s followed suit since then with his first feature outing, Intensive Care, and to ample effect, with the casting of one Tara Macken whose veracity in acting could one day easily match the caliber she’s increased in a well-over-a-decade-long career in stunts.
Having done a fair amount of acting through bit roles for feature-length, short form and TV projects, Macken exudes the kind of promise relatively seen from a number of stuntwomen through the decades; You can point to Sophia Crawford, who went from stunt performing in Hong Kong to doubling Sarah Michelle Gellar for the rigorous action scenes in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and even playing one in an ensemble of key villains in TV series WMAC Masters and in Isaac Florentine’s U.S. Seals 2: The Ultimate Force.
Others notable who’ve taken the mantle at drama further list the likes of Amy Johnston, Tamiko Brownlee, PeiPei Alena Yuan, Natascha Hopkins, Heidi Moneymaker and many more. That’s just a sample of the current, impressive crop of stunt and acting talent that Macken comes from with credits like Raze, Lloyd Lee Barnett’s Ninja Apocalypse and recently on the set of CBS series, Hawaii Five-O, and so with Intensive Care, it’s ultimately in Macken’s first feature role that you get to really take a bite out of what she presents on screen front-and-center.
Less of an all-out commercial-type of an action thriller, Intensive Care sort of shares the same space with a character you’d meet in a Stephen King novel adaptation or a film by Adam Wingard or the likes of Kim Jee-woon or Hong Won-chan. That’s the kind of protagonist you meet in Macken’s portrayal of Alex, an ex-special forces operative who turns away from the bullet-dodging hustle and bustle of the battlefield to a more idyllic trade as caregiver to the eldery.
While tending to the ailing and bedridden Claire (Leslie Easterbrook) whose well-kept grandson, Danny (Jai Rodriguez) decides to pay her a visit, little does Alex know that his agenda-driven arrival has re-ignited an underlying family feud regarding his inheritance, and Claire’s own recalcitrance on allocating it to him. In Alex’s mind, though reluctantly at first, it’s nonetheless an opportunity for her to acquire a companion in place of a life of solitude and a quiet sense of longing.
With potential romance in bloom and all things seemingly normal, Alex is suddenly ambushed, beaten and bound to a chair and gagged by Seth (Kevin Sizemore) and Rudy (Jose Rosete), two armed men who turn out to be working in cahoots with Danny to liberate his grandmother’s secret safe in her bedroom for themselves. The partnership is obviously an apprehensive one for Danny whose obligation to the two psychopathic home invaders, despite his own interests, albeit forces him to cooperate until they can crack the safe and decide Alex’s fate.
The film doesn’t wait too long in showcasing exactly how much of a threat Seth and Rudy pose in their ruthlessness. Just minutes into the film you already get the idea of just how far that can extend, though much to the chagrin of the ill-fated trio, however, they’ve found themselves in unchartered territory, soon learning of Alex’s military background and training. Having freed herself from captivity, what ensues for Alex is a deadly fight for survival in lieu of forthcoming revelations, including those of our heroine whose newest life-and-death struggle also becomes the ultimate test of her cracked psyche.
Press on the film bills it as a traditional nod between Fede Álvarez’s Don’t Breathe and the 2014 action thriller, John Wick. I wouldn’t really draw that kind of comparison seeing as Wick’s odds are much more monumental in numbers and whose battles are less contained as they usually spill openly onto busy streets and public places. This doesn’t undercut the performability and entertainment of the action on hand, especially for a film geared toward putting Macken’s skillset as an action-capable actress imbued with stunt experience on full display from head to toe. She doles out plenty of it with her male co-stars, including Tekken and Stomp The Yard co-star Darrin Henson who plays fellow soldier Jeremiah, friend and confidant to Alex.
Clocked in at about an hour and twenty minutes, Bentley gives what he can to present a full-fledged thriller largely tethered to its contained setting, and with a very small casting roster. To the viewers’ benefit, the film is evenly paced enough so as to avoid the all-too-familiar lagging effect that comes from trying to overstretch the drama at certain key moments that start to feel like filler – contrived and lacking moreso than substantive content attributed to character development and story progression. You get interesting characters in Seth, an ex-convict with a knack for tying a noose and designs on making Danny pay for his past mistakes, and Rudy, an ex-marine with violent streak and a brutish way with women.
As far as small-to-mid-budget productions go, Intensive Care makes good work of its script, set pieces and acting talent on hand. Bentley’s script, co-written with Darrin Scane and Eric Storlie, was crafted plentily in filling in as many blanks as possible to keep the film entertaining even with some slight stumbles along the way. There’s no question, however, as to the key to the film’s packaging and delivery, and what makes it the most worthwhile.
For as long as I’ve been covering and obsessing over independent films and stunt performers, I’d always known for a fact that those in her field who’ve worked tirelessly who’ve taken to independent means to present not only raw, solid screenfighting for a target audience, but a sense of gravitas to meet the necessary criteria to be taken seriously as actors. For this, the last five years have been some of the most rewarding in this effort, especially pertaining to Macken and her endeavors.
It’s made all too clear the fun she exhibits in portraying Alex – a heroine that isn’t as black-and-white as one would expect and instead very much layered and complex at times. That she’s written as such in an otherwise semi-simplistic action thriller that bookends with a little cherry on top attrributed to her very quirks will bode all the same for anyone looking to relax the brain for 90 minutes just to see a kick ass action flick.
Intensive Care isn’t the best or most memorable action flick, but its got a psychological twist to it which brings out the best from its more-than-capable female lead. For its duration and all efforts made toward thrilling entertainment, Intensive Care is Macken’s calling card for producers and casting viceroys looking for female talent that gushes cinematic solemnity, and consumers eager to fancast the next hard-hitting action franchise.
Intensive Care is now available on VOD wherever movies are streamed, and with a DVD release date now set for January 8 from Screen Media.