Edinburgh International Film Festival

Hyena (2014)

Starring: Peter Ferdinando, Stephen Graham, Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring, Elisa Lasowski, Richard Dormer

Directed by: Gerard Johnson

Rating: 1 2 3 4

According to Hyena director Gerard Johnson, there's hardly any neon left in London.

Now one could be tempted to see the gradual replacement of this luridly glowing symbol of 1980s underworld sleaze with clean, gleaming, pure white 21st century LED as emblematic of gentrification, a cleaning up of dark streets and dirty deeds. But while Hyena does indeed shine a light on London's underbelly, what it illuminates is pretty damn grim. Corruption, vice and decay are still big business – and the police are up to their necks in it.

Peter Ferdinando as Michael Logan in Gerard Johnson's Hyena

Michael Logan (Peter Ferdinando, completely unrecognisable as the autistic serial killer he played in Johnson's previous movie, Tony) is a bent copper with greasy fingers in a lot if unpleasant pies. A high functioning alcoholic and cocaine addict, he and his team turn a blind eye to all manner of crime for a cut of the profits in return. Like the scavenger of the title, they feed on London's underworld, partying hard with their ill-gotten gains. And yet but Michael's enjoyment seems hollow and half-hearted; he is bloated, weary with burning the candle at both ends and keeping all the illegal balls in the air while still delivering results as a policeman. There's no glamour in this life of crime – unless snorting coke in your poky high rise can be said to constitute living the high life in anything other than the most literal terms.

But Michael's game is about to be disrupted, by players who refuse to abide by the rules. When a Turkish drug connection is murdered by a brutal Albanian gang, he initially believes he can run the newcomers as he ran the old guard, but he soon finds himself sickened by the violence and exploitation he becomes embroiled in.

And if a hard-bitten, corrupt policeman is taken aback, you can imagine how I felt...

Yup, Hyena is definitely not for the fainthearted, nor for those who long for anything more than the tiniest neon glimmer of redemption in a very dark, cruel, ruthless world.

If, on the other hand, you enjoy being utterly gripped by a terrifyingly convincing narrative, jerked into audibly gasping and groaning (soz, fellow cinema goers – although it wasn't just me...), rattled by a brilliantly unnerving soundtrack (courtesy of Gerard's brother Matt, aka The The) and left in a breathless state of shock by the end, then this is the film for you.

Stephen Graham in Gerard Johnson's Hyena

A coruscating portrayal of institutionalised infamy, Hyena steadfastly refuses to glamourise or find humour in the sordid world it reveals (cough cough Guy Ritchie...). And it's similarly uncompromising in its depiction of London itself, showing a side to the capital that doesn't often get a look in on the big screen; a sprawling city of chicken shops and low rent strip joints, mobile phone shops and formica-tabled restaurants. And yes, the last remaining neon.

Featuring an outstanding performance from Ferdinando and great supporting roles from the likes of Stephen Graham and Neil Maskell, Hyena is a compulsive, shocking tour de force, and starts the Edinburgh International Festival with a real bang for me.

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