Director Brendan Muldowney takes us behind the scenes of new Irish movie

SAVAGE is a thriller a thriller already being compared to Martin Scorsese’s ‘Taxi Driver’, it tells the story of an Irish man who turns from victim to avenger after a violent attack on the streets of Dublin.

Where did the idea for ‘Savage’ come from?
BM: There was a case, years ago, in New York of a guy called Bernhard Goetz who was known as the Subway Vigilante. He shot a gang of lads on a subway train, and when it went to court it transpired that he had been mugged maybe a year before, and he had taken to riding the subways in dangerous areas with a gun. So people were suggesting that he was looking to react again. His supporters were saying that he had every right to defend himself. That caused a huge furore about whether he was in the right or not and what right people have to defend themselves. Over the years I have seen cases of it, even in Ireland – there is the Padraig Nally case, a farmer in the west who had been robbed before so he had taken to sitting in the shed with a shotgun and he shot a traveller when he was on his property. So I am very interested in that and I always wanted to make a revenge or vigilante film. I would have also been influenced by vigilante or revenge films. They go the range from exploitation to quite smart films. So I was interested in the rules of revenge and vigilante films and how to subvert some of those rules and go down a smarter route. The other thing… Growing up, I would have been influenced by the media from Northern Ireland; a part of you feels a little bit broken hearted for humanity. It’s the same as when the beheadings started to happen in Iraq… We’re all human and to realise that this has happened to someone and also that humans do this, for me, there is something that breaks a little bit. I wanted to put that into the end of the film. I don’t have answers to that, so I didn’t want to give answers, I just wanted to make people feel the same way as I felt – that little bit of broken heartedness. For me, that was the starting point.

The film shows Dublin in a less than flattering light, do you think this is an accurate depiction of the city?
BM: No. Everyone sees Dublin differently, so this was the Dublin of the character and as he sees it. Particularly after he has been attacked. I mean, we wouldn’t sit down an alleyway in the dark… Do you know what I mean? [laughs] I wasn’t out there to represent it. I did film on the streets – they are the streets of Dublin. You can manipulate it through the colours and everything, but it is my character’s journey, so it is his version of Dublin, which is a sort of hellish journey [laughs]

Do you think the film will have an impact on people’s perception of Dublin?
BM: I doubt it. Anybody in any big city knows what cities can be like and I think people can tell the difference between a film representation and reality. I think so anyway… I could be blind to it! It could be an assault on Dublin [laughs], but I don’t really think so.

The film feels like Taxi Driver meets Kill Bill, were these films that influenced you?
BM: I had a list on my wall of films that influenced me, and they would range from exploitation films through to Taxi Driver and through to films like A Short Film About Killing and a whole range of films. You mentioned Kill Bill and at one stage when I wrote the script I looked at it and thought ‘this is like a super hero arc’ so I was aware of the structure. I was also trying to subvert certain things. Like when he shaves his head – that normally happens in a revenge film when someone goes mad – whereas I put that in right at the start. It’s almost like he’s a rape victim and he wants a fresh start. I was trying to do things like that with it as well and change the rules.

There is a lot conveyed through the absence of dialogue. Can you tell us about this?
BM: I suppose when you are dealing with a mind that’s breaking down, it’s quite boring to talk it… There are some scenes where he talks to the psychiatrist, but if I had a film full of that… It’s not visual; it’s just the wrong technique for cinema. What’s at my disposal are the pictures, but again, that’s not getting inside the mind, so it’s the sound and the performance of the actor. So it’s his face, the situations you put him in, but it’s the sound… I thought the way to pull it off was to make the journey visceral and to pull you in through atmosphere rather than lots of talking, so that’s what I tried to do.

What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?
BM: I think they are all going to come away with different things. I can already see that happening – people all have different reactions and interpretations and that is exactly what I want. I very deliberately tried to keep it as grey as possible and not judge the character and not give answers so I would hope there is actually a range of reactions. Regardless of my own politics or what my beliefs are, I actually think it’s a very confusing issue so I am not even sure of my own views. Most importantly, I am going to bring you back to that feeling of that little bit of heartbreak that I felt when I saw those horrible, violent things. I wanted to have that ugliness, that assault so that then you may go either way but you are going to feel assaulted by it.

A lot of the scenes are fairly intense. Which was the most difficult to film?
BM: The boring answer is that most of the scenes in the flat were so complicated that by the time we were on the last day there I had too much to do and I thought ‘I don’t think I can make the film’. If I didn’t get it done there was no going back. That’s the boring answer, the other answer is that things like shooting on the street at night can be stressful, because you are dealing with an intense scene, you are dealing with random drunks and random people and just everything that goes on at night. We shot in the summer, so you are dealing with a very short night time and once you see the sky start to lighten, the panic sets in [laughs]. You have got so many shots still to do that it can be stressful. Anything that’s stressful like that can be hard to do.

You had a relatively small budget for the film. What would you have done differently if you had a bigger amount to work with?
BM: I would hope that what would have happened is that maybe harder questions would have been asked of the script, and I might have solved some of the holes in the script. That’s really what I would have hoped for. If I had solved the script holes… I actually like the fact that we did it as a rough film and I think maybe it serves the film, I think it’s good like that and I think that anything else might have been wrong for it. The only thing I always look at is possibly the script and the thing is, that money can’t solve that. If I had more money I would have gone more graphic at the end scene, but I think I would have still kept it within that reality feel, but I possibly would have had some CGI, I might have gone a bit more graphic, but I am happy enough, really.

Words – Brogen Hayes
SAVAGE is now showing in Irish cinemas

Check out our interview with cast member Nora-Jane Noone later this week