'Juggernaut': Film Review

Strong performances and atmosphere compensate for the cliched storyline.
3/9/2018

A man returns to his British Columbia hometown to investigate the supposed suicide of his mother in Daniel DiMarco's Canadian thriller.

A prodigal son returns to his British Columbia hometown after the suicide of his mother in Daniel DiMarco's neo-noir thriller Juggernaut. Heavy on gloomy atmospherics, the pic boasts strong performances in its violent tale of sibling rivalry and buried family secrets. Despite some overly familiar plot elements, the Canadian thriller marks a strong debut for its writer-director as well as an impressive showcase for Jack Kesy (Claws, The Stain) in his first cinematic starring role.

The charismatic actor plays Saxon, who at the story's beginning arrives as the remote town in which he grew up after finding out that his mother committed suicide. His recovering alcoholic father Leonard (veteran character actor Peter McRobbie, who scared the bejesus out of audiences in M. Night Shyamalan's The Visit) has cleaned up his act and become a minister. And his older brother Hank (Supernatural) has become a prosperous businessman, the owner of the local prison, who thinks of himself as having single-handedly rescued the town's fortunes.

Saxon hasn't come back to repair his fractured relations with his relatives. Rather, he's convinced that his mother didn't actually kill herself and is intent on getting to the bottom of what really happened to her. Needless to say, he butts heads, both literally and figuratively, not only with his father and brother but also with various townspeople whom he suspects know more than they're letting on. Saxon is so angry that even a seemingly innocuous conversation with his mother's insurance agent quickly proves combative.

"Have I done something to offend you?" the insurance man asks Saxon after receiving a barrage of insults. "Your existence offends me," Saxon replies.

The slow unraveling of the mystery proves less compelling than the characters' interpersonal dynamics, including the attraction that develops between Saxon and Amelia (Amanda Crew, Silicon Valley), his brother's schoolteacher girlfriend who finds herself drawn to the troubled sibling.

DiMarco's screenplay too often lacks subtlety; the boy's father delivers a sermon titled "What Makes a Man Good" that seems far too on-the-nose about the movie's themes. The dialogue proves heavy-handed more often than not. When the minister later observes about his sons, "Them boys have been on a collision course since birth," the line inevitably feels scripted.

Nonetheless, Juggernaut accumulates an undeniable raw power thanks to such elements as its bleak setting, evocatively captured in Patrick Scola's dark-hued cinematography; the jittery, strings and percussion-heavy musical score by Michelle Osis; and the excellent performances. Kesy infuses his portrayal with a simmering undercurrent of violence that proves unnerving, with Cubitt matching him in intensity as the businessman who may not be as respectable as he appears. And McRobbie, always a compelling screen presence, delivers just enough shadings to his character to make it clear that when it comes to his warring children, the apples haven't fallen far from the tree.   

Production companies: Mad Samurai, Stainproof Media
Distributor: LevelFILM
Cast: Jack Kesy, Amanda Crew, David Cubitt, Peter McRobbie, Ty Olsson, Stephen McHattie, Philip Granger
Director-screenwriter: Daniel DiMarco
Producer: Matthew Cervi
Executive producers: Ben Silverman, Dave Valleau, Jason Upton, Rich Mento
Director of photography: Patrick Scola
Production designer: Jennifer Morden
Editor: Rob Grant
Composer: Michelle Osis
Casting: Rich Mento

105 minutes