Opening the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2014, Hyena divided opinion, though most were favourably impressed by its moody, pounding soundtrack by The The. Since director Gerard Johnson is brother of that band’s frontman Matt (really the only consistent member, as well as the songwriter), it makes sense that film and score are such a good fit. Albums such as Infected and Soul Bomb covered a similar territory: male angst and self-laceration, violence and bodily fluids.
The film benefits from boasting very few familiar faces, so its hyped-up, steroidal realism is unimpeded by recognition. Peter Ferdinando is suitably tortured as a corrupt drug squad cop whose covert deals and coke habit start him on a road to destruction when he comes under investigation, and a pair of psychopathic Albanian brothers move violently into his turf.
Admittedly, the story boasts plot holes its fat sweaty coppers could march through four abreast: at one point, plot points are revealed by a tape recorder on which an enemy has recorded things that, for some reason incriminate himself; and scenes in which a man taunts somebody training a pistol on him never really convince me. But part of what I like about the movie is the way it bursts the constraints of realism in favour of a gross, emotive and infernal feeling of nightmare.
Unlike a lot of commercial crime films, Hyena doesn’t try to be ingratiating: when it errs, it does so by being too stridently unpleasant. For the first half of the film, Ferdinando is in every scene, except for a few cutaways showing a woman being abused. They didn’t need to be there for narrative reasons, since what happens to her is recapped later. And they dilute the first-person tunnel-vision quality of the rest of the filmmaking. In particular, an explicit rape scene with the woman unconscious seeks to gross us out with a hairy and overweight (and swarthy) assailant, in a manner not seen since Michael Winner’s Dirty Weekend. It’s offensive not because of his visible erection, but because it’s using his less-than-ideal body shape to disgust us. Since the victim is unconscious, what he looks like is irrelevant. It’s her powerlessness that should be the source of our discomfort.
If you can forgive the film the excesses that don’t work, the excesses that do work make for a pretty pungent experience. You may need a shower afterwards.