GORE IN THE STORE
AMERICAN BADGER ***
Directed by Kirk Caouette.
Starring Kirk Caouette, Andrea Stefancikova, Michael Kopsa.
Action, US, 81 minutes.
Reviewed as part of FrightFest Glasgow 2021.
The constant cinematic figure of the lone hitman gets yet another outing in writer/director/choreographer/actor Kirk Caouette’s AMERICAN BADGER. Filmed and edited over three years the film is low in budget yet impresses with its expertly executed action scenes and tries to aim for an indie drama feel for the quiet character driven stretches in between. Starting off with a clarification for its title by explaining that the American badger, unlike its European counterpart, is a more solitary animal with an even more aggressive nature when approached. It seems that these traits are also found in Dean, the quiet yet lethal assassin who takes centre stage here.
Living in a dingy hotel in between jobs, Deans solitary lifestyle is only broken up by communications from his handler, who is only heard over the phone. Tasked with making contact with a cam girl to get to her gangster employer Dean soon finds himself embarking on a tender relationship with the damaged Marcella, or Velvet as she goes by online. Trafficked to America at a young age by her sleazy boss Vasily, Marcella finds herself attracted to Dean, who tries to keep his true identity hidden from her. When Dean is tasked with eliminating her he decides to take matters into his own hands.
With its fast paced opening the more obvious influences on AMERICAN BADGER are immediately apparent. JOHN WICK is evoked with its opening nightclub set piece and again with Dean’s canine companion. A later showdown reminds the viewer of OLDBOY when Dean faces off against a number of opponents with the aid of a claw hammer. The character of Dean himself seems to be reminiscent of The Driver from DRIVE with his solitary nature. constantly looking out over the cityscape from his hotel room. His voiceover filling in the blanks to his history aiming for a kind of profundity that is rarely attempted in low budget actioners.
Sadly, this is where the film fails in its execution. The script is nowhere near as philosophical or weighty as it wants to be, instead coming across as quite shallow. The treatment of Marcella is also disappointing, reverting to the wretched spectacle of having her sexually abused a number of times. Depressing enough as that is it sadly displays the lack of thought and laziness put into her character and storyline as it serves the overall storyline in no way at all despite Andrea Stefancikova’s best efforts.
Otherwise there seems to be an earnestness to proceedings that gives AMERICAN BADGER a unique feel that is rarely found in low budget American action cinema. Whether this is intentional or not may be hard to figure out right now. Perhaps if Caouette is given the chance to flex his writing and directing skills again he may find a way to improve on the character and emotional side of things. Where he proves himself without a doubt is with the action and its choreography. Fast, brutal and slick he accomplishes a lot with his small budget. Maybe sticking to what he obviously knows best could pave the way for something more successful in the future.