Frightfest Glasgow 21 – Film Review – American Badger (2020)

An empathy drained hitman targets a gang of evil Albanian sex traffickers in this profoundly violent meditation on redemption and revenge.

Dean is a contract killer with a disdain for stealth and a penchant for devastating flurries of controlled brutality. Codenamed Badger, he is tasked with milking information from an internet sex worker called Velvet before wiping her out.

However, Badger finds a kindred spirit in the similarly damaged Velvet and the pair channel their shared nihilism into a savage cyclone of no fucks given mega-violence.

Director and lead actor Kirk Caouette has been a constant on the fall guy and fight choreography scene for the last 27 years. Weaponising this wealth of experience he orchestrated the rampage of American Badger over a 3 year period, congregating a gathering of top stunt performers that take up the vast majority of the closing credits.

The bountiful set pieces of intense close-quarters combat, ferocious stabbings and point-blank headshots are exhilarating and just about hold their own in the extreme meta of modern hard action cinema.

Although not in the same league as the maestro of screen mayhem Gareth Evans (The Raid, Gangs of London), or indeed the increasingly insane offerings from Timo Tjahjanto (The Night Comes for Us, Headshot), American Badger has a personality and passion of its own. A much more useful comparison would be to the work of indie action auteur Darren Ward (A Day of Violence, Beyond Fury), however, Caouette’s approach is entirely more existential.

The bloodshed and beatings hang together on a sparse framework of quasi noir voiceovers and curt exchanges of minimalistic philosophising. This pared-down methodology works in the film’s favour with the slow burn introspection and Sartresque musings proving a tangible counterpoint to the fuck-em-up for fun flight plan.

The relationship between Velvet and Badger is well-conceived and convincingly portrayed. One has surrendered autonomy by design and the other has had it ripped from them.

She has become conditioned to act as no more than a conduit for gratification and seems determined to obliterate the world record for chainsmoking. He has been starved of female contact for 12 lonely years but prefers to perv on her online persona rather than engage physically. Dosed up on hard liquor and high-grade tranquilisers, one speculates how much more dangerous he could really be with a less destructive path of self-harm.

Yet, their shared goal is one of tenacious reclamation and that forms both the sinews of the wiry narrative and the catalyst for them to bond over sessions of guiltless slaughter.

Lead actress Andrea Stefancikova is icily pragmatic in the role of Velvet. Balancing the divergent extremes of steely determination and dehumanised resignation in a way that cements her unholy communion of cruelty with Badger.

It is both refreshing and quietly compelling how the psychological tortures of the two protagonists are underplayed with a confident subtlety. Velvet’s sexualised deconstruction is mercifully restrained in the strict terms of exploitation cinema, affording it more power and realism. In symbiosis, the mental sinkholes of Badger are explored in snapshots of medicine labels and candid glimpses of O.C.D as he restlessly repositions his toothbrush glass.

Caouette is a director with a fascinating past, both personal and professional. A $150 Million Chinese film he wrote called Asura was pulled from cinemas after online rating sites were infiltrated by bots. Despite this, he has demonstrated a humanitarian streak a mile wide, throwing vast energy into nurturing Canadian cinema and developing charity projects in Mozambique, Vietnam, rural Africa and Vancouver.

He is a fighter in more ways than one with a philosophical proclivity that affords a nuanced calibration to the callous butchery of American Badger.

The shared cinematography is inconsistent and occasionally jarring, however, the resulting dissonance creates a visual texture that gives it a welcome punk-arthouse feel. American Badger hurtles towards the vomit swamp of shaky-cam territory at times only to be judiciously jerked back from the brink by shrewd and concise editing.

An eccentrically layered agenda and credible desire to entertain keep American Badger from being the disjointed elongated fight reel it could have been.

Brashly confident and artistically adventurous it will not disappoint those with a craving for the cinematic craft of choreographed chaos.

★★★★

EUROPEAN PREMIERE

5 – 8th March 2021

Hard Action, Thriller, Crime | Canada | 2020 | 82mins |N/C  18 +| Glasgow Film Festival – Frightfest Strand | Raven Banner Entertainment | Dir. Kirk Caouette| Kirk Caouette, Andrea Stefancikova, Michael Kopsa