In the past years the Edinburgh International Film Festival has been opened by some excellent features (William Friedkin’s Killer Joe) and some less exciting fare (Breathe In). Settling somewhere towards the latter of these two extremes is the 2014 opener, British crime thriller, Hyena.
Gerald Johnson (2009’s Tony) writes and directs Hyena which follows corrupt cop Michael (Peter Ferdinando) who leads a special task-force that tackles London’s biggest drug traffickers. Michael turns a blind eye against the illegal activity of the Turkish and Albanian criminal community of the city, however the reappearance of an old colleague from his past threatens to expose he and his unit’s corruption.
From its opening the visceral style of Hyena hits like a sledgehammer. We see Michael and his crew in a silent, slow-motion attack in a pulsating blue and neon white nightclub. This bold and brutal visual style continues in the film’s graphic and unrestrained nature from stomach-turning mutilations and killings to the equally traumatising sight of the erect penis of an overweight Turkish man (shudder). It would be fair to draw immediate comparisons to the striking work of Nicolas Winding Refn – most notably Pusher and Only God Forgives, however, Hyena‘s style becomes more muted and bland as the film progresses. Like Michael and his crew, Hyena is a film that initially refuses to restrain itself and there is something quite impressive about that.
There are moments when Johnson’s direction is particularly tense – for example in its gradual unveil of much of the violence (most notably seen when Michael discovers the mutilated body of a Turkish acquaintance) – but Hyena struggles to keep hold of this tense drive due to some pacing issues. At points Hyena is gripping, harrowing, and absorbing but rarely maintains this intensity for longer than five minute bursts. There seems to be a huge amount of unessential scenes that follow Michael liaising with various criminals which gradually begins to get repetitive and bore.
The cast are faced with the challenge of making these corrupt, morally repugnant characters watchable throughout. Lead actor Peter Ferdinando puts in a strong performance with an understated intensity – seeing Michael gradually fall out of his depth and become entangled in his own corruption makes for an incredibly watchable character study. Perhaps most interesting about Michael is that Johnson and Ferdinando make it clear that there is still glimmers of a good cop hidden beneath the sleaze. However, the remainder of Michael’s drug-squad are presented as cheeky anti-heroes throughout , despite being truly repugnant, vile characters.
There is much to admire about Hyena such as its unrestrained visuals, visceral atmosphere and somewhat tense direction. However, repetitive narrative moments slow the pace down and distances us from the proceedings – as do the film’s repugnant anti-heroes.
Crime, Thriller, Drama
18th June 2014 (EIFF 2014)
Peter Ferdinando, Stephen Graham ,Neil Maskell, Richard Domer, Myanna Burring