IADT graduate and prolific short-subject writer and director Brendan Muldowney’s debut feature film Savage is a timely story about an increasingly violent Irish society undermined by ponderous characterisation and moments of frothy hysteria.

Darren Healy plays jobbing photographer Paul Graynor, who spends his working life outside the Four Courts, snapping criminals as they emerge from the back of police vans. Lonely and withdrawn, the only person Paul talks to, other than his elderly, ailing father, is the old man’s nurse, Michelle (Nora-Jane Noone). Having plucked up the courage to ask her out, Paul and Michelle start a tentative relationship. But on the way home from their first date, Paul is mugged in a side-street. His attackers respond to his cowering fear with an even more brutal assault, which leaves Paul with horrific injuries. Unable to come to terms with what has happened; mild-mannered Paul retreats to the isolation of his city-centre apartment where he hatches a plan for revenge.

Impressively photographed, edited and scored, Savage is a slick looking film, even more so when the very low production budget is taken into consideration. However, the glossy production work isn’t enough to override the fundamental flaws in the greasy story. The film is littered with moments of clanging implausibility. The assault Paul suffers (which, in fairness to the potential audience, I cannot reveal here) is burdened by an unnecessary metaphorical weight that the rest of the story struggles to carry.

Later, Paul’s interactions with authority figures, policemen, doctors and psychiatrists, are improbably perfunctory and glib; a complete misreading of the post-traumatic psychiatric care process and something that could have been rectified by further research or the application of common sense above cinematic expediency. These clumsy exchanges are not intended to help Paul but rather to push him towards his transformation into an agent of bloody vengeance. The point is hammered home in a sequence where Paul watches a reactionary television pundit espouse about our “brutal society” being at a “tipping-point” before pledging to kill anyone who breaks into his house.

The two leads give performances of more nuance than the material they have to work with. Healy is entirely convincing as the traumatised young man, struggling to come to terms with changed life prospects while Noone is both hard-edged and soft-hearted as the pragmatic nurse, looking to help him. But as the story develops, it becomes increasingly difficult to sympathise with Healy’s fascistically-drawn Übermensch, shaving his head, necking illegal steroids and waving a big knife while Noone, an angelic sounding-board, offers nothing but timid objections. Muldowney is clearly influenced by films such as Taxi Driver, Death Wish and Straw Dogs in depicting a man who reacts to the violence he meets by becoming violent in return. But the writer and director fails to capture the dangerous ambiguity of his genre predecessors and Savage deteriorates into a didactic lecture about the dangers of vigilantism. For all its flaws, Savage is a statement of intent from Muldowney and his producer Conor Barry, a film that shows their considerable promise for the future.

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