Wednesday, September 3, 2014

HYENA: A Look At Gerard Johnson's Tony

I'm creeped out by myself in that movie.
If the name Gerard Johnson doesn't ring any bells, it should. Perhaps you will recall a grubby, claustrophobic film from a few years back called Tony. (We can see you nodding at your computer as you read this blog post. But we swear we're not creepy.)

What is definitely creepy is Tony. As discussed in our director profile of Gerard Johnson and his new film Hyena, it was made on a miniscule budget after Paul Abbott saw Johnson's ten-minute short of the same name. Although sometimes films made from shorts lose their steam after a while, this was not the case with Tony. Every frame is suffused with grit and bleakness, and the score, by Johnson's brother Matt (The The), adds to the sense of suffocation and pathos.

Based loosely on serial killer Dennis Nilsen, Tony (played to grimy perfection by Peter Ferdinando from A Field In England) is a bit of a loner. He fails miserably at nearly every interpersonal interaction in which he is involved. Granted, he tries to befriend the bootleg DVD guy on the street corner who may not speak English and a couple of smack addicts, but still, you have to feel sorry for the guy.

At least until he starts killing people.

What makes Tony's murders even more chilling (other than the scenes featuring dismemberment and blue plastic bags and the constant discussions of the smell coming from "the drains") is how little his demeanor changes when he commits them. Sure, he seems angry, but the tone of his voice and facial expressions are pretty much the same whether he's trying to get out of taking on a job or bashing a hustler in the head with a hammer.

Yet, although he's surly and somewhat lazy and totally clueless about relationships, be they platonic or sexual, he comes across as more of a pathetic figure than a genuine threat, which is where Johnson's film and Ferdinando's performance are most horrifyingly effective. He is a genuine threat. It's never clear what sets Tony off and makes him kill. Is he frustrated at his lack of social skills or repulsed by his own sexuality? Or is it because no one takes him up on his offers of food? (Beans on toast! I thought you'd never ask!)

Another aspect that makes the film more grotesque is the humor, though it's admittedly bleak. Granted, the film is not an uplifting comedy, but there are still laughs to be found, however queasy they might make one feel.

For another look into the darkness of the soul from both Gerard Johnson and Peter Ferdinando, add Hyena to your list of must-see films at this year's Festival.

HYENA screening times:
Sun., Sept. 7th, 6:45 PM, BLOOR HOT DOCS CINEMA
Tue., Sept. 9th, 9:00 PM, SCOTIABANK 12
Fri., Sept. 12th, 12:00 PM, BLOOR HOT DOCS CINEMA

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