If we were being honest with ourselves – admittedly, not humanity’s strong point – we’d probably have to admit that we romanticize serial killers. Aside from the whole “serial killing” part it’s easy to see why. The kinds of maniacs we see in the media these days are uniformly intelligent, charismatic multi-taskers who buck the system and, essentially, do whatever the hell they want. They live in a constant state of rebellion and catharsis, and it’s hard not to fantasize about living our own lives the same way, especially if, once again, we ignore the whole “murder” thing. Pitting one of these superhuman maniacs against mafia thugs is a pretty fun idea for a movie, but making this particular Jame Gumb a little kid might very well be a stroke of genius.
The Aggression Scale does exactly that, and while the film itself doesn’t qualify as a work of high art, it manages to milk its high concept without getting too clever with it. It is clear that somebody, at some point, realized that The Aggression Scale is little more than Home Alone with a body count, and so they threw in a couple of “too cute” death traps that play more into that pop culture reference than the actual world of the film, which dulls the edges a bit. Sharpened metal jacks would surely hurt if pressed into the palms of your hands, but far more threatening is the thought of a little disturbed boy thinking nothing of pummeling your skull with a metal baseball bat. Luckily, we get far more of the latter than the former.
The plot is a simple home invasion scenario, with a family moving into their new house, unaware that a group of armed goons wants to shotgun them in the face for stealing their boss’s money. That boss is played by “Twin Peaks” star Ray Wise. His lead flunky is played by “Twin Peaks” star Dana Ashbrook. Somehow, director Stephen C. Miller resisted the urge to reference the David Lynch series, making the probable coincidence easy to digest. The family is comprised of a newly married mother and father, who exist mostly to be imperiled, and a newly stepped brother and sister, played by Fabianne Therese and Ryan Hartwig. The bad guys are played like a bunch of guys with a frustrating job who quickly and openly question whether the situation they find themselves in is worth the effort. The Aggression Scale takes the time necessary to introduce its characters and raise questions about their relationships before rapidly killing them off in pleasing, low-rent manners.
Once the action kicks in, and the begrudging stepsister joins forces with her mute and deranged little bro, The Aggression Scale becomes what it was always meant to be: a small-scale action thriller with only a nifty protagonist keeping things from getting mundane. But like Pitch Black before it, injecting an unexpected character into a conventional situation cleverly elevates the material just beyond the reach of its trappings. The mop-headed little rascal is himself a cliché, but he’s a cliché from an entirely different movie altogether, and should be all rights be The Aggression Scale’s villain. When placed side-by-side with hardened hitmen threatening his family, however, he’s forced to play the hero, and that contrast is entertaining, if simplistic. Aside from a hint of sexual tension between the stepsiblings, that’s as far as The Aggression Scale goes outside the old-fashioned revenge thriller scenario. Luckily, Stephen C. Miller knows how to make one of those movies, filling his film with mostly logical action beats and thoroughly milked suspense sequences.
The Aggression Scale is nothing more than a genre exercise, but it's a very good one, worthy of rental or purchase by enthusiasts of thriller, action and serial killer genres alike. It’s clever without earning any extra credit, making the film a satisfactory but straightforward dabbling in psycho killer hero worship. It’s like The Good Son, if you replaced word “good” with “badass,” and it’s just as fun as that sounds.