Monday 2 March 2015

Hyena - Review


Written and directed by Gerard Johnson
Certificate 18

Balkan  butchery. A scene from Hyena

Hyena, a gripping tale of modern London rife with Balkan butchery and bent law prowls onto our cinema screens this week.

It marks writer/director Gerard Johnson’s second feature, that again draws upon a powerful central performance from Peter Ferdinando. Five years ago the actor played a suburban psychopath in Tony, a portrait of a London serial killer – this time round he’s Michael, a flawed cop trying to police parts of a city that are falling increasingly under the control of rival Albanian and Turkish gangs.

Making for grim viewing. Johnson's Met is as riven with feuds as the criminals they are trying to police. No sooner has Michael learned of a new people-trafficking route across Europe, than he has to swiftly take cover as he finds himself witnessing the brutal dismemberment of his informant. It all takes a turn for the worse as he learns that the Met’s own internal anti-corruption squad are on to him too and as the plot unfolds, Michael realises that he is being framed for a murder he didn’t commit.

Michael's policing principles are old-school. Taking bribes off villains is OK if it helps to keep the peace, but the trafficking of women into prostitution is an outright No. Elisa Lasowski as Mariana, the Eastern European girl who finds herself bought and sold between the gangs and who literally has salt rubbed into her wounds as a punishment, earns our sympathy. Likewise, Stephen Graham as David, Michael’s traitorous buddy with a score to settle, is another classy turn. Elsewhere, when they’re not chopping up cops and robbers with swords and cleavers, Orli Shuka and Gjevat Kelmendi as the ruthless Kabashi brothers, out to make London their patch, give a well thought out nod to the forces currently at play in the capital’s gangland. 

Johnson’s snapshots of violence and corruption may well be accurate, for Hyena's credits suggest some extensive research. The plot that strings these ghastly glimpses together however is occasionally too far fetched. Of course this is the movies, but when we see Michael apparently gifted Liam Neeson-like powers to single handedly rescue Ariana from her captors or to execute a bent copper in a deserted field at midnight, the story's hard won credibility takes a knock. Likewise, Johnson’s shot of of a fat old punter, naked and with a half-mast hard on, about to have his vile way with the drugged Ariana, put me right off my popcorn. Gratuitous nudity or what? We know the woman is being horrifically exploited – there has to be a subtler way of depicting her humiliating agony.

It is a classy touch that see's Hyena's score prove as gritty as the narrative. Post-punk band The The provide a pulsing backdrop to the action that not only serves well in supporting the movie's troubling violence, but also emphatically underlines Johnson's artistic thrust. It is unlikely that any other 2015 indie Brit-flick release will be as well scored as this.  

Cleverly if economically filmed from a hand-held perspective throughout, the movie has much to entertain and shock from start to finish. With a proven knack for troubling us with his filmmaking, Johnson’s Hyena takes a long loud laugh at a lawless London.

In cinemas from 6th March 2015

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