Director: Gerard Johnson
Major Players: Peter Ferdinando, Stephen Graham
Out Of Five: 3.5
As I waited to go into the Hyena screening, two guys were chatting about the forthcoming film. “Have you heard anything about it?” asked one, to which the answer was, “No”. “It’s very violent,” he was assured. Not that the thought of a violent film bothers me overmuch – I’ve seen enough movies not to be too squeamish – but actually I was in for something of a surprise. Serves me right for eavesdropping.
Michael Logan (Peter Ferdinando) is a London cop working on the drugs squad. His speciality is forming close relationships within the community – the Turkish one, in particular – and his bosses think he’s doing a great job. What they don’t know is that he’s crossed the line, involving himself in drugs deals and helping himself to large quantities of the white stuff. But then he’s transferred to the people trafficking team and their main target is a couple of Albanian brothers – who Michael already knows all too well.
So, is it very violent? No, but it certainly is violent. The Albanians are a pair of especially brutal thugs, as we discover early on when they murder one of Logan’s contacts. Just a brief glimpse of the way they’ve literally carved him up is enough and, similarly, when they murder a policeman, we see the blood on the wall and the occasional stab. But, again, we’re spared the gruesome details of the killing, so the audience is treated as if it has both intelligence and imagination. And it’s a technique that means we imagine something really horrific.
So why on earth does the director, Gerard Johnson, not take the same approach with the film’s rape scene? A trafficked woman, who’s central to the plot, is sold on, drugged and then raped while she’s out cold. But instead of it being left to our imagination, we’re spared nothing. She’s naked, so is the man, he’s ready for action and we see it in all its disturbing detail. But we don’t need to. If we’re the adults that Johnson recognises we are in the violent scenes, why have we changed for this one? It’s unnecessarily graphic and would have been equally unsettling, if not more so, if we’d seen less. There’s a gratuitous feel to the scene that’s at odds with the rest of the film.
As a view of humanity, it’s blackly cynical. Apart from Logan’s one act of humanity in trying to save the woman, most of the characters are all self-centred and decidedly nasty. Double crossing abounds among the cops and their so-called targets. Peter Ferdinando is impressive as Logan, digging himself deeper and deeper into the mire, and there’s no way you’d ever trust his new boss, Knight (a smooth but shifty Stephen Graham). They were mates when they worked together some years ago, but they fell out big time – and neither of them has forgotten it. Some of the acting among the lesser characters is not of the same order – the trio of clowns that Logan used to work with are all caricatures – and the Albanian brothers are nothing more than hulks. But the director can’t resist a nod to the popularity of Norman Wisdom in their home country, so we see them watching him on TV. Yet they’re not laughing. That, presumably, means they’re really hard men – not that we didn’t know already.
I came out of the film feeling grubby, tainted by the blood and filth I’d been watching on the screen and wanting a bath to get rid of it. That says something for the film making, despite my reservations, although I’m not sure the director intended me, or any other members of the audience, to feel that way. My take was that it was meant to show how the lines that most of us think are clearly defined can be so easily be blurred, but blurring those lines means going to dark places, so it’s unavoidable.
This isn’t your usual gritty British thriller. For gritty, read grimy. Grubby. Uncomfortable. It’s a film that you don’t necessarily like, but you do have a certain respect for its skill in provoking such a reaction. And it’s no wonder it’s been given that rarity, an 18 certificate.
Hyena goes on limited release on Friday, 6 March.