'Tyrannosaur' is currently playing as part of the New Directors/New Films series at the Museum of Modern Art.
Paddy Considine's'Tyrannosaur' challenges the viewer from the first frames to keep watching. Will we walk out in the first few minutes when Joseph has a foamy-mouthed meltdown after being kicked out of a bar? Or when Joseph turns to his dog waiting faithfully outside and kicks him until his ribs break? What about when Joseph lugs the dying dog home as the day dawns behind him? Still here? Okay, good; there are more suburban horrors to explore here in Considine's world, if you're game. For most viewers, however, that's a big if.
Joseph (writer/director Peter Mullan) lurches and curses and drinks his way through a life as desolate as the grey landscape around him. He doesn't befriend so much as take hostage Hannah (Olivia Colman), a religious woman who works in a Christian charity shop. First he hides out in her shop from people looking to finish a fight Joseph started; then he confides in her; then he verbally abuses her and her faith. But he keeps coming back and even though she tries to get rid of him, she eventually allows him into her life. This is not because of the graciousness of her faith, necessarily, as we soon learn it's tested on a daily basis by her even more abusive, foamy-mouthed husband James (Eddie Marsan), but perhaps because she sees in him her own building rage.
"No one's safe around me," seethes Joseph in one scene with Hannah, as he reveals the sad details of his relationship with his late wife. (The title of the movie is taken from his endearing nickname for her.) But it would be more correct to say that in this movie, no one is safe, period. There's really no word for these characters -- Joseph's drinking partner Tommy (Ned Dennehy), his dying friend, his young neighbor Samuel and Samuel's mum and her crappy boyfriend and his vicious dog -- except miserable. There is a glimmer of hope, of course, at the very end after all the blood and death and even urine has been washed away, but at what cost?
It's hard to deny there's a certain power to Considine's film; there is a terrible urge to see what happens next, if only because we're curious how it could get bleaker. (And it does. Oh, it does.) There's artistry in the performances and in Considine's writing and direction, but the movie brings up bigger questions -- what's the point of a movie that you simply stomach? That leaves you feeling bludgeoned afterward? Is Hannah's abuse exploitative, or is there more to her than a martyr who uses Jesus and booze as a balm for her wounds? Joseph is given moments of grace, but Hannah only finds relief in yet more (and I'd say totally justified) violence.
While the film moves towards a sort of higher meaning about damaged people finding solace in each other or some such mumbo-jumbo, the ending feels like an empty coda meant to placate the viewer, as if to say, "See, it's not that bad." But you can't have it both ways; you can't brutalize the audience for the majority of the film and then pat us on the head at the end and tuck us into bed. Either go all the way with the sort of relentless sadism of, say, 'Martyrs' or give us something more to cling to than a postscript.