List Film

Hyena (3 stars)

Gerard Johnson's grim and grisly thriller is a strong enough film, but an odd choice for EIFF opening night

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Hyena

EIFF opens this year with a grisly standoff between ultra-violent Albanian gangsters and racist, homophobic, bribe-taking, coke-hoovering London cops, among whom only Michael Logan (Peter Ferdinando) retains a guttering wisp of moral awareness. The acting has range and power, and Benjamin Kracun’s cinematography is excellent – deep, nuanced, painterly. But the storytelling has little rhythm or suspense; everything just gets worse. Female characters nag, suffer or gyrate in G-strings. Everyone is motivated by bitterness and self-interest. And the violence – rape, murder, a LOT of dismemberment – is graphic and relentless.

As a film, then, this is a strong enough thriller for an audience with the stomach for very black humour and severely testing imagery. No question that it has a place at EIFF, which also premiered the director’s distinctive debut, Tony, in 2009. As the Opening Night Gala, however, it’s a thunderously odd choice. That event is a welcome; a celebration; an embrace of sponsors and dignitaries whose support helps the Festival happen, but who aren’t necessarily tough-nut cinephiles. Why hit those people with such upsetting content – and why put the film in the position of doing a job for which it really, really isn’t suited? Maybe there’s some sort of subversive political message intended, along the lines of 'while you all have your nice night out, people are being trafficked, murdered and raped'? If so, this is still an odd choice, since it’s more nihilistic than polemical (although the UKIP-friendly point is made that the Albanian bad guys got into Britain as asylum seekers) or particularly compassionate. Heavy movie violence isn’t something that everyone should get a little more of, like wholegrain: some can tolerate it, while others prefer to protect themselves from it. Forcing this level of it on supporters in a celebratory context is either a mean-spirited and singularly counterproductive kind of mischief, or just poor judgment.

Screened as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

Hyena

  • 3 stars
  • 2014
  • UK
  • 112 min
  • 18
  • Directed by: Gerard Johnson
  • Written by: Gerard Johnson
  • Cast: Peter Ferdinando, Stephen Graham, Neil Maskell

A corrupt policeman tries to navigate the changing crime world of London as the tide begins to favour recently arrived Albanian gangsters.

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