One bloody line blurred in director Henry Jacobson’s first feature – which he wrote with Avra Fox-Lerner and Will Honley – is that between serial killer and vigilante. Quiet, intense, straight-arrow Evan Cole (Seann William Scott), a social worker who counsels troubled young people, exorcises the simmering rage he feels against deadbeat Dads, stemming from his own horrible childhood, by binding, lecturing and stabbing lowlifes who’ve wrought horrible psychological and physical damage on children … a rapist uncle, an addict Dad, etc. Evan’s mission seems to have become more acute since the birth of his son, and any thought we might have that he’s a hero – on a par with, say, Olivia Wilde in A Vigilante – rather than a dangerous sociopath is contradicted by a sense that he’s only seeking victims to avoid turning his wrath on his fragile wife Lauren (Mariela Garriga) or even the baby. In an opening flash-forward, a snippy OBGYN nurse (Christie Herring) takes a shower and is stabbed in the neck … we learn that she was high-handed, brusque and lacking in empathy with Lauren, but is that enough to put her on Evan’s kill-list?
Lingering watchfully is Evan’s knowing, devoted Mom (Dale Dickey – always a welcome presence, somewhere between Judith Ivey and Grace Zabriskie), who bears as much responsibility for the way he’s turned out as his ranting drunk Dad (Matthew Bellows). Incidentally, in flashbacks, Cassandra Ballard does an impressive turn as a younger version of the Dickey character – and the information doled out gives a deeper understanding of just what’s been going on, while also suggesting how things might go forward after a complicated third act that hinges on family loyalties and complicity.
Scott turns his familiar smile into a grim straight line and tones down his usual hyperactivity – somehow it’s disturbing to see him so constrained and interior, playing a new spin on the ‘insane shrink’ convention that links Drs Caligari and Lecter and working a different side of the street from Dexter Morgan, almost overdoing the drab, downbeat realism. It’s a little slow-paced, though part of the film’s strategy is to get inside the skin of people on their last nerve (a montage of crying baby is as harsh as any of the killings) – but the last act gets more plot-focused as Evan and his loved ones are beset by a canny cop who’s making connections and one of Evan’s clients who has mixed feelings about his abusive father’s murder that the psycho can’t comprehend.