For a decade now, it has been a tradition of mine to sit and watch the end credits of a brilliant film. To observe and respect those in front of and behind the camera who did their utmost to bring it to life with an obvious love for their craft… Sam Kelly’s ‘Savage’ has surprisingly short end credits.
Savage is said to ‘pull the cover off New Zealand gang culture’. I’d say it rips the cover off, smashes it with the back end of a hammer, spits on it, calls it a c***, beats its chest and swaggers off to eat a beer bottle. And this is just the opening few minutes.
Creating a fresh story exploring domestic abuse and gang culture within a New Zealand setting is always going to be a difficult task. I mean, who would want to stand in Once Were Warriors’ imposing shadow. It’s a cult classic, and not just in New Zealand. It created the mould. Savage now breaks it and casts an imposing shadow of its own.
‘Okay, Jimmy, stop fart-arsing around with theatrical wordplay and get on with the nitty gritty!’ I hear you say… Rude. I don’t come to your work and tell you you’re not scrubbing the toilets properly, do I?
The fact is, I was so immersed in this film that I forgot to take notes after a certain point. I think this shows the massive leap in quality of New Zealand cinema in the last few decades. (Less so television. I mean, Shortland Street *gags on own vomit* is still a thing. Unfortunately.)
A character piece, Savage gets straight into it, managing to be brutal, poignant, gripping and thoughtful inside its 97 minutes. It really felt like a much longer film, and I mean that in a good way. Aesthetically, I loved the colour palette and lighting, and there was some very clever visual story telling. The plot, while exhibiting all the toxic masculinity and knuckle-draggery you’d expect with gangs, is gripping and difficult to predict. I’m not going to spoil anything.
Obviously, this is not a film you’d want to show your kids. At some points you may wonder if it is competing with South Park for Most Expletives in a Feature Film. Also, non-Kiwis may need to have the subtitles on. I’ve lived in Aotearoa all my life and even I struggled to understand what lead actor Jake Ryan was saying sometimes.
All in all, one of the best films I’ve seen in a while. One that asks: Deep down, are we all just animals? I could go on about how much I enjoyed this, but I forgot to take notes. Bugger.
Rating: R16 Restricted to persons 16 years and over. Violence, cruelty, offensive language, drug use and sexual references.
GEEKERY rating: 4.5/5