Friday, March 2, 2018

Self Defense

Self Defense (1983) (AKA Siege, AKA The Night Warriors)

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Set during the Halifax police strike of 1981, Self Defense is about a guy (Terry-David Despres) who escapes a massacre at a gay bar and has to hide in a nearby apartment from a fascist gang. The gang members lay siege to the apartment, and the residents end up having to creatively and violently defend themselves.

I had never heard of this movie until last week when my friend came up with it seemingly out of nowhere. I'm really glad that she did because this is definitely an underappreciated Canadian thriller, and still uncomfortably relevant now, thirty-five years after it was made.

It's very low budget, but the filmmakers obviously did the best they could with what was available to them. There's really only two complaints I have about the movie.

Complaint number one was the lighting quality. Sometimes the lighting was really cool, but most of the time it seemed altogether absent. Granted, I watched the movie on youtube so it's entirely possible that the transfer quality of that particular copy was really bad, but still, there were a few scenes that were incomprehensible due to not actually being able to see what was on the screen.

Complaint number two is that the two main characters (Tom Nardini and Brenda Bazinet) weren't that great. The secondary characters, including a weirdly well-armed greaser dude (Darel Haeny) and a legally blind dude with unusually good hearing (Jack Blum), were excellent and totally made the movie.

Everything else about the movie is great. It's really intense - there's an early scene where a bar full of people gets just fucking executed which, though minimalist, managed to be one of the most fucked up things I've seen in a movie recently. The pervasive sense of danger and uncertainty throughout the film broke through my usual apathy so that I was genuinely concerned about what was going to happen.

The setting was really clever, and I'm not just saying that because I have lived in Halifax for most of my life, although it was cool to see my home town in a movie, that doesn't happen very often. What's clever about it is that the police strike actually happened, it was a real thing, and the movie uses that as a backdrop to create tension and a sense of hopelessness. The reality of the setting makes the action much more immediate and believable - the characters have a legitimate reason to take things into their own hand because the police aren't going to come. This is something that legitimately could have happened.

The movie is reminiscent of a lot of siege/urban survival movies, like The Warriors, or Straw Dogs, or especially Assault on Precinct 13, having a lit, synthy, John Carpenter-esque soundtrack, it's different enough to be interesting in its own right and not feel derivative of those movies.

Furthermore, the ways that the protagonists defend themselves against the gang members are spectacularly inventive. They fashion a homemade rocket launcher at one point, which is just so fucking cool, they electrocute a guy, and set another guy on fire, there's a hunting bow involved. I'm a person who enjoys a certain amount of violence in movies and this was definitely satisfying on that front.

Normally I don't give a fuck about spoiling movies but I'm going to leave this one untold so you actually go watch this movie because the ending, holy shit, I have never been so shocked and devastated by a movie. The ending is perfectly appropriate for the movie but the fact that there weren't any objections to it, or if there were, not enough to get it cut from the film, boggles my mind.

It's fucking criminal that this movie isn't a Canadian cult classic, it has every right to be - according to my friend, it's getting a little bit of attention right now so hopefully it comes back and finally gets the recognition that it deserves.

It's up on youtube right now, although like I said, that quality isn't super. Apparently it can be bought on Amazon on VHS, which is something I will probably invest in whenever I get my VCR hooked up to something. 100% recommend for fans of home-defense thrillers, and low budget Canadian grease.

- Thematically dark (+1)
- Wicked soundtrack (+1)
- Actually thrilling (+1)
- Halifax! (+1)
- Reality! (+1)
- Fucking rocket launcher (+1)
- Good deaths (+2)
- The ending is seriously amazing (+1)

- Visually dark (-1)
- Did Halifax have a gun problem in the 1980s? (-1)

Directed by: Paul Donovan, Maura O'Connell. Written by: Paul Donovan. Starring: Tom Nardini, Brenda Bazinet, Darel Haeny, Doug Lennox, Jack Blum, Terry-David Després, Keith Knight.

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