A couple whose relationship is in trouble goes on a vacation to work things out only to find themselves fighting for their lives instead. How many times have we seen that plot used? Well, you can add Assailant, the new film from writer/director Tom Paton (400 Bullets, Black Ops) to the list.
In this case, the couple is Zoe (Poppy Delevingne, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Kingsman: The Golden Circle) and Jason (Chad Michael Collins, High Moon, Sniper: Assassin’s End). Things are so strained between them even a counselor (Angela Dixon, Black Site, Homeless Ashes) can’t help, mid-session Zoe says she wants a divorce. As a last-ditch effort, Jason suggests going back to the Caribbean island where he proposed to her.
They book a boat captained by Henry (Jeff Fahey, The Long Night, The Commando) who recognizes, as he puts it, a make or break vacation and offers Jason some advice. That night as they head to dinner Zoe’s sister calls. Jason goes ahead and says he’ll meet her at the restaurant. While he’s waiting he meets Michael (Casper Van Dien, A Tale of Two Guns, The 2nd) and is impressed with the way he handles a customer harassing the bartender. If he’d seen the film’s prologue however he’d be scared instead.
While Paton’s earlier films showed a fair amount of imagination, Assailant gets off to an extremely generic start. Zoe and Jason are in crisis mostly due to his workaholic tendencies, which in turn were brought on by his losing their savings and their business in a bad investment he neglected to consult her about. The tropical vacation, a boat captain who seems to have wandered out of a Jimmy Buffet album and the stranger they never should have talked to.
So it should come as absolutely no surprise that by the end of Assailant’s first act things turn ugly between them resulting in violence. Or that Michael can’t let it go and begins stalking them while they hike a secluded island trail, forcing Zoe and Jason to put their issues aside and work together to survive.
What really saves Assailant is Van Dien’s performance. He’s utterly convincing and chilling as the psychotic Michael. Whether it’s casually destroying a security guard, timing how long it takes a victim to die from a throat punch, or demanding Jason apologize to Zoe he projects an absolutely chilling intensity. Collins is also somewhat cast against type, while he’s still one of the film’s protagonists he’s a bit of a jerk and not the action hero type he usually plays.
Unfortunately, it’s all mostly wasted on a predictable game of cat and mouse across the remote island. There’s no cell phone signal, but there are a few other hikers and a distinctly unhelpful cop to up the film’s body count. And of course, Jason and Zoe repeatedly fail to make sure their antagonist is actually dead resulting in enough false endings to make Assailant start to feel like a slasher film. Perhaps it isn’t a coincidence that Van Dien’s character is named Michael.
While Assailant is longer on chase scenes and suspense than action scenes Paton does make the most of those scenes. The violence is well choreographed and in a couple of instances shockingly brutal. The result is a film that is competently made and watchable but ultimately forgettable. As I said in my review of 400 Bullets, without a science fiction or horror angle to work with, Paton’s films seem to lose something and this is a step down from that film.