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Monday, April 25, 2011

Review: Axe (1977)

aka Lisa, Lisa

This rusty rural revenger starts off with three thugs who put up in a seedy hotel to await the arrival of a colleague who they proceed to kill in a violent struggle.  The hooligans then go on to rob a convenience store and assault the female clerk, before they finally seek shelter in a remote farmhouse far out in the sticks.

The house is only occupied by a young woman named Lisa and her invalid and mute “grandfather”, who at first glance seem to present no threat to the intruders.  The treacherous trio forcibly make themselves at home and - as these things normally go - one of the crooks eventually gets a little too ‘touchy feely’ with the lady.  It’s more than chicken necks that’ll be on the business end of Lisa’s little axe before the roosters crow, you rest assured.

Axe is a small film.  It has an obviously small budget, an admittedly small plot, a small cast and small effects; however, the atmosphere carries more girth than a Republican at the poor people's buffet.
Director Fred Friedel’s minimalist approach leaves a good many things open to interpretation and it all translates unfavorably.

Firstly, Lisa’s markedly detached manner suggests previous trauma of an unknown sort. Could “grandfather” (curiously, he doesn’t appear to be that old) have lent a hand in her disposition?  Is his immobility and silence the product of Lisa’s wrath, or just some tragic accident?  And just where the heck is the rest of her family?  Friedel insinuates all manner of foul through some discreet editing which raises the viewer’s suspicions without ever offering any answers.  This general ambiguity in the narrative gives Axe a menacing undertow and an admirable creep factor.

The direction and pacing do feel a bit too reserved at times, but some assured photography and performances make up for it.  Axe mounts the suspense in tidy little increments without ever getting too frenzied, giving it a slow simmer.  Actress Leslie Lee in the lead as Lisa stands out especially; she carries a unique presence and her "damaged" portrayal is quite convincing.  Something must be said for the discriminating score as well; it's strange, yet beautifully haunting, augmenting the dramatics more than the shocks which adds to the film's already unique climate.

Axe will not please the sleaze or gore-hounds; the onscreen sex and violence is marginal and brief, so those looking for beaucoup blood and boobs need not apply here.  Interestingly enough, it's more of a matter of what we don't see in the film over what we do, that makes it effective. Yes, there’s a pretty girl with an axe.  And yes, she will use it.  But what drives her to kill with such apparent ease becomes the most frightening prospect.  Something we are never sure of.  Chop that up to being intentional or just lazy storytelling, either way it suggests possible terrors beyond what we're seeing, turning Axe from something diminutive into something monstrous.

Theatrical Trailer

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