Last year while at Fan Expo in Toronto, I had the opportunity to sit down with actress Amanda Adrienne to discuss her role as Zoe in the action-packed, revenge-driven horror flick, SAVAGED. During the convention, SAVAGED was a popular draw. Postcards advertising the film were everywhere, baiting the crowd towards distributor Raven Banner’s booth. After seeing a short clip of the film during a panel where Adrienne appeared, I was hooked. It looked to be a fresh twist on the classic revenge genre; certainly something that looked special. I needed more.
I consider myself quite fortunate because here, during Hi-Def Ninja’s first Halloween Week, I had the pleasure of not only receiving an advanced screener of the film to review, but also the chance to talk to the film’s writer and director, Michael S. Ojeda (that interview was posted on Wednesday).
SAVAGED is a bleak, gory and adrenaline-fueled film that’s more tragic than it is horrific. The film follows Zoe, a deaf mute, who – against her sister’s dismay – drives her deceased father’s GTO across the Southern states of the U.S. to move in with her fiancée Dane (Marc Anthony Samuel). While traveling through New Mexico, Zoe stumbles across a group of racist, murderous renegades and pays the ultimate price. A Native American witch doctor (Joseph Runningfox) finds her and in a botched attempt to save her life, ends up inviting the spirit of a vengeful Apache warrior into Zoe’s broken body. Zoe arises and, with the skills of the warrior inside her, begins a streak of vengeance across the deserted plains.
Right from the clever opening titles, I knew that I was in for a treat. Not only did Ojeda tackle the writing and directing duties, but he also stepped in as editor and cinematographer and let me tell you, his work in both of those roles is nothing but brilliant. Scenes fade in and out gorgeously while shots are set up in ways that you wouldn’t expect from a low-budget film. With every use of the camera that Ojeda used, I was left spellbound. All I can really say is that SAVAGED is one glorious film to look at.
Being that it is a relatively low-budget horror film, SAVAGED really needed a few important aspects to succeed in what it set out to do; the most important of those aspects being a good cast. For the most part, SAVAGED succeeds admirably. Adrienne is great on the screen. As the selfie-obsessed, pre-death Zoe, she portrays sweet and naïve perfectly. As the post-death Zoe, she’s an absolute force to be reckoned with. Throughout the film, Adrienne had to use sign language, be believable as a deaf mute, use an arsenal of different weapons including a bow and arrows; she had to crawl through dirt, be covered head-to-toes in fake blood and twist her body into forms that I didn’t even know were possible. The challenges that Ojeda put Adrienne through is mesmerizing and the fact that she pulled them all off is completely jaw-dropping. As SAVAGED was her first lead role in a feature-length film, I was seriously blown away. If a big film doesn’t pick her up real soon, I’ll be left clueless. Adrienne was astonishing!
The villains of the film – or the renegades, as I like to refer to them as – were all played incredibly well by some highly talented actors. Rodney Rowland and Tom Ardavany played the lead renegades of Trey and West, respectively. Both actors were truly amazing in their roles. Rowland was probably the stronger of the two, but Ardavany carried this persona on-screen that fascinated me. Ardavany’s appearance in the film – the cowboy hat, long hair, trench coat, massive knife – also had an iconic look to it. Out of the two, we’ll probably see more appearances in future films and shows by Rowland (that guy can play such a perfect, hateable villain; it’s really quite incredible), but it was Ardavany’s character that I enjoyed most.
The rest of the renegades included Brionne Davis’ Cody, John Charles Meyer’s Creed and Ronnie Gene Blevins’ Jed. Again, each actor gave great performances. The shocking thing about this film is that even though these villains are disgusting, despicable individuals, they’re all rather likeable. Not likeable in the sense that you root for them, but in the sense that while they’re on-screen, you actually enjoy watching their interactions with each other. Some films that include heroes and villains, you’re often awaiting the hero to come back on-screen. Here, I actually enjoyed when Ojeda flipped back and forth between the hero (Zoe) and the renegades.
The remaining supporting characters were Samuel’s Dane and Runningfox’s Grey Wolf – the witch doctor who helps bring Zoe back to life. Both actors were decent in their roles, but truth be told, I did find their characters rather boring. I understood why they were there and that they were definitely important to the story, but I just enjoyed Adrienne’s Zoe and all of the renegades so much, I really didn’t care for whenever the focus left them. That’s not a knock to Samuel or Runningfox whatsoever (or even Ojeda’s script); it just proves how insanely strong Adrienne, Rowland, Ardavany and the others were in their roles.
The music in SAVAGED is phenomenal! Between Ojeda choosing Amycanbe’s ‘Rose is a Rose’ for the opening credits and Noctura’s ‘Caged’ for the end credits, I was already happy with the film’s soundtrack. It’s the score from Spanish composer César Benito that really struck a chord with me, though. The music fits SAVAGED so perfectly, I sometimes found myself listening to the score before paying attention to the image onscreen. In my interview with Ojeda, he stated that Benito will be famous one day and I couldn’t agree with him more.
Another highlight for me was the special and visual effects. For a film of this budget, you’d expect effects that were slightly cringe-worthy. That’s not the case with SAVAGED, though. There may have been a couple small moments where the CGI was as clear as day, but for the most part, I was never truly taken out of the film at all during its effect-driven moments. In fact, there was a few times where I was actually in awe. This was just one more reason why I was so pleasantly ecstatic by the end of the film. Ojeda put his heart and soul into building this film and it shows. You can see the love and passion that went into it and for me as a filmgoer, that’s really special.
Of course, there’s rarely a perfect film and SAVAGED did come with a few very small flaws. When I say small, I mean that for the most part, I’m just nitpicking. One thing that somewhat bothered me throughout the film was the overabundance of intestines. If this was straight-up zombie fare – the walking dead ripping at the guts of their victims – lots of intestines spewing and flying would make sense. With the tone of SAVAGED, I would’ve accepted one – maybe two – scenes with torn stomachs and expelled intestines. Here we receive at least four or five different occurrences where such events take place. There were also a few mediocre plot holes that the majority of the general audience will overlook. These nitpicks are easily forgivable, though, because I was truly happy throughout the entire film that there was no gratuitous rape scene. Rape does occur, but it’s off-screen and only applied in the earlier part of the film. For this, I applaud and thank Ojeda. In films like THE HILLS HAVE EYES and THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, the rape scenes are so in-depth and disturbing that I almost want to turn the film off completely. There’s no reason to show a rape scene in a film. There’s always ways around it, so it bothers me when you’re left feeling dirty from such grotesque scenes.
Overall, I can’t really say anything negative about the film. I truly enjoyed almost everything about it. The cinematography and editing were beautiful while the acting was, for the most part, spot-on. The kill scenes were fun and innovative and kept the film enjoyable from beginning to end. When SAVAGED is released, whether it’s theatrically, video-on-demand or direct-to-video, I highly recommend everyone to check it out, especially if you’re a fan of the revenge genre (in this case, a very gory revenge genre). SAVAGED was an achievement that everyone involved should be proud of.
Before I end this, though, I just want to state a personal opinion. Ojeda revealed in his interview with me that SAVAGED will be retitled to AVENGED when it’s released in North America this February due to the wishes of the distributor. I don’t know if this is because using ‘savaged’ as a title is some kind of PC issue, but honestly, it’s a bad decision. There’s something unique and original about the current title. AVENGED is as mediocre and unoriginal as they come. It seems like a play-off of the popularity of THE AVENGERS and that just comes off as bad taste to me. If the distributor wants filmgoers to watch their film, they need to seriously reconsider their decision. If a title change is needed, so be it… but please come up with a better one than AVENGED. In the meantime, I’ll be looking forward to eventually adding this film – no matter the title – to my Blu-ray collection.