Studio: Uncork'd Entertainment
Director: Michael S. Ojeda
Writer: Michael S. Ojeda
Producer: Jason Gurvitz, Lezlie Wheeler
Stars: Amanda Adrienne, Marc Anthony Samuel, Rodney Rowland, Tom Ardavany, Joseph Runningfox, Ronnie Gene Blevins, John Charles Meyer, Brionne Davis, Ed Fletcher, Donnell Russell, Daniel Knight, Kyle Morris
Left for dead by a gang of murderous brothers, a deaf woman returns for vengeance when she is possessed by the spirit of a legendary Apache warrior.
NOTE: "Savaged" was retitled "Avenged" for its official U.S. release.
Wrong place. Wrong time. That is when and where deaf girl Zoe Carden finds herself after a stop on a solo road trip through New Mexico makes her an unwitting witness to a gang of racist rednecks brutalizing two Native Americans. The desert-dwelling deviants quickly turn their attention towards Zoe and she soon becomes their tortured captive bound by barbed wire, raped, and dumped in a shallow grave after being stabbed in the spine.
A man and his dog find Zoe still clinging to life the following morning. Anyone else would immediately phone the police, paramedics, or both. But seeing as how Grey Wolf is a Native American shaman, he opts for a less traditional, or more traditional depending upon how you look at it, method of bringing Zoe back from the brink of death.
What no one plans on, however, is that someone else wants to exact vengeance on Zoe’s attackers as much as she does. The bloodthirsty brothers who left her for dead come from a long line of bigoted miscreants dating back to the murder of legendary Apache warrior Mangus Coloradas. So consuming is Mangus’ decades old hatred for the family that felled him that his spirit becomes unavoidably entangled with Zoe’s. Now two spirits are united in one body by their mutual hunger for retribution with a bow and an arrow.
“Savaged” is a straightforward take on the revenge thriller formula made unique by a handicapped heroine and a hate crime-related subtext. It is this latter element in particular that lends more contemporary social relevance than similar films interested merely in torture porn gore and so-hollow-it-echoes violence.
As a revenge thriller in the style of “Last House on the Left” or “Kill Bill,” “Savaged” gets the job done by being a highly respectable low-budget production. This is not a loosely conceived excuse to stitch together scenes of graphic brutality with a bare minimum scripting effort. “Savaged” has something to say about predatory behavior and racism, and says it in a way that is respectful of the content while remaining effective as horror entertainment. Although hamstringing the film’s complete effectiveness are some bumpy characterizations and a visual design that can be more distracting than it is stylish.
In the very short time spent with Zoe before she runs afoul of her would-be murderers, the most notable thing she does is take her eyes off the road for a solid 15 seconds to attend to a text message in her lap while roaring down a highway at 88 miles an hour. When she predictably looks up in time to swerve and miss a man in the road, an event leading directly to her impending tragedy, you can’t help but point to her own stupid behavior as the root of her undoing. It would have been far more sympathetic if the threatening situation were one she did not create herself.
Sorry, but if Zoe’s defining trait besides being deaf is going to be that she texts while driving, then I’m going to regard her as an irresponsible idiot. Now that I think about it, being deaf makes her visual inattention even worse, because she cannot even hear any approaching sirens or honking horns.
The romance with her long-distance fiancé is also problematic for time-constricted reasons. Aside from a picture in a frame, the two of them are never depicted together. Without establishing any relationship between them worth speaking of, the tormented heartbreak angle of their forceful separation and quest to reunite is an emotionally empty goal for the audience to engage in. Her fiancé may as well be an unrelated detective investigating her disappearance given how underdeveloped his connection to her is.
No one is going to hail Zoe’s attackers as a truly distinguished take on the racist hillbilly stereotype. The way they hee-hee-hee while unbuckling their belts and ho-ho-ho as their victim puts up a fight can certainly be classified as clichéd, yet there is no arguing that these performances accomplish everything required to cast them as the target of fiery ire. Rodney Rowland and Tom Ardavany excel as the primary duo, and you do end up anxiously awaiting their inevitable comeuppance by hatchet, scalping, or something as suitably painful as they deserve. Pulling that enmity from the audience is chief in importance above making them uniquely memorable individuals, and “Savaged” succeeds in that regard.
Writer/director Michael S. Ojeda has a background in cinematography, which creates some questions about the curious choices made visually. Ojeda, who also shot the film, lets the whites blow out and bleaches the colors for a desaturated look seemingly meant to evoke a seventies grindhouse vibe, which instead comes off as unfortunately cheap. Whip zooms and slow-motion close-ups suggest the same intent, though coupling their irregular usage with an odd obsession for Dutch angles makes for imagery that is often odd instead of intriguing.
Save for a sketchy car rolling sequence, the visual effects are quite remarkable, with exceptional makeup work being one of the film’s highlights. Moments that are already white-knuckled are made more nailbiting with gruesome shots of maggots writhing inside flesh or a captive ripping herself free from barbed wire in a way that makes audiences inhale through clenched teeth. A case might be made that the savagery depicted teeters on being over-the-top, except that is precisely what this type of movie is expected to do to make its point. Even with uneven performances and a third act that could use a slight rhythm tune-up, “Savaged” is able to do just that with pure blood-boiling intensity alone.
Review Score: 70