Screamfest 2013 Review: Savaged

"Savaged does the avenging woman story right, albeit as brutally and nastily as ever."

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Savaged is the female The Crow movie we’ve all been waiting for. That’s not to say it’s derivative. On the contrary, writer/director/editor Michael S. Ojeda had the vision that three sequels and a remake so far have not, though Crow creator James O’Barr said he’s had that idea too. Anyway, the point is Savaged does the avenging woman story right, albeit as brutally and nastily as ever.

Zoe (Amanda Adrienne) is deaf and mute, driving alone cross-country to move in with her fiancé (Marc Anthony Samuel). She stops to try to prevent a violent attack on some Native Americans by the local racists. They catch her too, rape her and leave her for dead. Then a Native American mystic gives her the power to rip apart all her attackers one by one. Oh, and call her fiancé, because it’s a love story too.

The action in Savaged is so ambitious despite its limited means, it feels like the way movies should be made. Ojeda figured out the most exciting sequences he could create when he must have only had the ability to shoot the minimum amount of shots that would portray these fights. We’ve all seen movies where we see everything but aren’t impressed. Each fight sequence in Savaged has a narrative drive where you see what Zoe has to do, and how she uses her powers to get there. It’s not The Raid but it’s the kind of action to which I’d love to see directors with all the Hollywood resources aspire.

Particularly a sequence on a moving pickup truck, I can pick apart how they achieved each shot, how fast the truck may have been actually moving and how the pieces were edited together, but that’s good. That’s the magic of filmmaking. The filmmaker creates the illusion of an epic battle while keeping everyone safe in real life. A car flip is obviously a visual effects shot but what makes it work is that it is the one artificial element surrounded by real setups. That’s the secret. Don’t CGI everything. Put one money shot into a real scene, that way even if we can tell it’s CGI, the momentum of the scene isn’t lost.

The Native American mythology leads to some macabre details. Nothing is free in Savaged. You take the super mystic powers, you get the gross gory side effects too. Adrienne, in her first feature film, is such a vision that she comes through no matter how nasty Zoe gets. It’s tragic really, this bright light of a person overtaken by the darkness.

There’s no getting around the brutality inherent in the very premise. Ojeda gives the film a gritty and rough aesthetic from the beginning, and it only gets uglier the more crusty blood he adds to Zoe’s face and body. Yet it is also composed and edited intentionally. Ojeda isn’t just slapping together some rough stuff. He’s created an ugly world where horrible stuff really is horrible, not danced around for the audience’s sake. It’s not even that the revenge is satisfying. It’s just the only thing that can still happen after what Zoe’s been through. There’s no justice. It’s not like you get revenge and a happy ending.

You know, I talked about how The Seasoning House could be a positive experience despite exploring an unthinkable real life issue. I’m more willing to say Savaged could be a difficult film, perhaps a downer even, but I’m glad it is. It may be fictional, but there are surely violent racist gangs out there in the real world. A movie like Savaged feels to me like a creative way to deal with real world horrors that are too much for a kind mind to comprehend. I like my fun “Steven Seagal kills the guys who killed his wife” movie as much as the next guy, more than most next guys really, but I’m open to all kinds of stories. I love what Ojeda did, I want to support it and see what he can do next. 

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Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind Best Episode Ever and Shelf Space Weekly. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.