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Shudder Secrets: For the Sake of Vicious: Not for the Squeamish

Leave it to Shudder to paint the walls red at the start of the New Year. Their first exclusive film of 2022, For the Sake of Vicious, is a nasty home invasion/revenge film. By the end, every wall of the besieged house is blood-soaked. The level of violence, including the number of household objects used against a swarm of invaders, isn’t for the squeamish.

This is no tame or slow-burn affair. Yet, what intrigues me about the film is the way it combines genres. Initially, it plays out like a revenge film, featuring a father seeking vengeance against the man he thinks raped his young daughter. An overworked nurse, meanwhile, is caught in the middle of it and eventually must fend off intruders who invade her home. This isn’t a movie you can pin down within its first act, and just when you think you can, it takes one suspenseful turn after another, each deepening the plot.

A Man Out for Revenge

Directed and written by Gabriel Carrer and Reese Eveneshen, the film stars Nick Smyth as Chris, an enraged father. Lora Burke plays Romina, an exhausted nurse. She’s thrust into a Chris’ whirlwind of anger when she arrives home on Halloween night and finds the man in question, Alan (Colin Paradine), bound and gagged in her kitchen. Chris instructs Romina that he wants Alan kept alive to pull a confession out of him. He plans any means necessary to make Alan say that he raped his daughter. Chris blames him because he saw his car parked a few blocks from their house just before the rape.

This is heavy subject matter, and it never ceases. In one harrowing scene, Chris recounts finding his daughter after the rape. Even bits of the dialogue ooze with emotional turmoil and violence. The narrative and images don’t get much easier from there. Plenty of torture ensues, but Alan refuses to confess.

Romina must deal with the squabbling. Further, she’s also the nurse who tended to Chris’ daughter, and she harbors her own trauma, mentioned briefly.  So, she can at least relate to Chris’ pain, though she’s not fully convinced that Alan is the culprit. In fact, as Chris and Alan come to blows, the viewer is left guessing who’s responsible and whether Chris indeed has the right man. The confined space of the kitchen and the tight shots of Chris’ crazed eyes or Alan’s bludgeoned face only up the tension. Neither man is a reliable character.

The three leads, especially Smyth and Burke, really excel in their roles. Smyth specifically plays a bloodthirsty father quite well. Likewise, Burke’s performance as both a resilient and exhausted nurse deserves accolades, too. Dealing with such men would be emotionally taxing, so when she arms herself and lets go, you can’t help but cheer.

A Full-Blown Home Invasion

Courtesy of Shudder

The first act of For the Sake of Vicious plays out like a pure revenge tale. We’re introduced to Chris and justifiably understand his pain and why he wants Alan dead. Romina is caught in the middle of it. However, by the mid-point, the film morphs into something else entirely, a full-blown home invasion movie. A bunch of goons in Halloween masks and motorcycle helmets (assassins maybe?) show up and want everyone dead. Initially, their intent is unclear until the film’s final act, which shouldn’t be spoiled here.

This is when the movie really leans into the violence, as Chris, Romina, and even Alan work together to stave off the larger threat. Ultimately, they’re forced to put their differences aside as one masked goon after another threatens the home and their lives. By this point, the film has very few, if any, quiet moments. The single location of the house works well here, making for several close-ups of bloody noses and gaping wounds while creating a sense of danger and entrapment.

Yet, while the film has home invasions elements, it differs greatly from some of the genre’s staples. Films like Funny Games and The Strangers focus on one family and a small group of invaders. In the case of Funny Games, it’s two bad guys, while it’s a trio in The Strangers. The characters, in this case, are only linked by Chris’ thirst for revenge and forced to work together to survive. That’s a narrative different from other home invasion affairs. This isn’t a family, even if they eventually act like one to save themselves.

Further, other than maybe The Last House on the Left or Inside, For the Sake of Vicious surpasses the blood and body counts of most home invasion films. In Funny Games, the torture scenes are prolonged and intentional. Here, they’re like a fist-pummeling assault. The blood doesn’t stop gushing until the last few minutes. There’s little room to breathe and very little humor. It’s a bleak film that also shows the limits of pure revenge. Yet, every thug in a skull mask gets what’s coming to him.

Courtesy of Shudder

Violence for the Sake of Violence or Something More?

As soon as child rape is introduced into the narrative, it’s clear For the Sake of Vicious won’t be an easy watch. There’s such a physical and emotional level of violence that runs through the 90s minutes. Yet, only something as horrific as that could lead Chris to become as unhinged as he acts. What about the rest of the violence, however? Ultimately, it serves as far more than entertainment.

The prolonged vengeance Chris and ultimately Romina enact are a means for them to process trauma. There’s something cathartic about the way they plunge a knife into the invaders. They’ve had no other way to deal with their pain. Yet, at the same time, the ending and the fate of the survivors leaves open the question, does violence only lead to more violence? That’s for the viewer to decide. Ultimately, Chris’ quest leaves a whole lot of bodies and severe consequences, but he’s also a man who feels like the justice system failed him.

Romina, meanwhile, tries to block out her past trauma, until Chris’ story forces her to confront her own past. In fact, I wish that the film leaned into her story more. It’s one of its missteps. Instead, it uses flashbacks only to piece together what happened the night that someone raped Chris’ daughter. Romina’s story also warrants attention, but it’s never given its due, even though Romina remains at the film’s center. She’s placed in the middle of a grisly situation, but all the flashbacks belong to Chris’ story. On top of that, she’s a single mom and an overworked nurse. This, too, is an undercooked plot line.

For the Sake of Vicious is one nasty ride. Everything becomes a weapon when the invaders show up, be it a wine glass or a toilet’s tank cover. Yet, when the bullets start flying and the blood starts flowing, you want Chris and Romina to survive. They’re the underdogs, oddball heroes of sorts, beaten, literally, and determined to get up again. Carrer and Eveneshen have created one brutal film that shows how far a man will go to avenge his daughter. It’s a gripping viewing experience, but not for the faint of heart.

If you can stand the gruesome bits, and if home invasion and/or revenge films are your thing, then give this a stream. The film comes to Shudder on January 6. For more of the streaming service’s exclusive and original content, check out my Shudder Secrets column.