The 1983 Canadian film Siege, directed by Paul Donovan, has held up well. The acting is sometimes iffy or overplayed, and the central female character spends most of the movie being useless and indecisive, but overall, the film does a more-than-solid job combining a gripping urban siege with a nice knife-twist of social commentary and a surprising amount of background progressiveness.
The movie takes place during the Halifax, Nova Scotia police strike. A group of neo-Nazis–the “New Order,” convinced that they’re the only ones bold enough to say what everyone else is thinking–roll into a gay bar to harass and threaten its patrons. It’s a smug and aggressive show of power, and of course it soon leaves a body on the floor. Nervous about a whole bar full of witnesses who could testify against them, they run and call daddy–the leather-jacketed, cool-as-a-cucumber Cabe (Doug Lennox). Cabe’s solution to the witnesses is as brutal as it is obvious, but one of them–the now shaky and traumatized Daniel (Terry-David Després)–manages to get out in time. After some tense cat-and-mouse, Daniel takes refuge in a rundown apartment building, hiding out with some people who are strangers to him but a kind of ramshackle friend group to each other. There’s steady, brave, protective Horatio (Tom Nardini); nervous Barbara (Brenda Bazinet), his girlfriend who’s not sure she wants to get involved in this; blind students Patrick (Jack Blum) and Steve (Keith Knight); and the extremely awesome Chester (Darel Haeny), who snaps into action like he’s waited his whole life to be besieged by some Nazis and he’s got some shit planned for it. Kevin McCallister, eat your heart out.
Siege leans into the strengths of its title, making sure you have a rough idea of how the apartment is structured and where the exits and entry-points are, and it makes smart use out of a detail that the residents know that their attackers don’t. It’s also clear on the number of people on each side, sketching them briefly but vividly enough that we can tell them apart and casting them with physically distinctive actors. There’s even a little humor to the characterization, from the building’s resident drunk who keeps greeting everyone with cheerful commentary about what a nice day it is to a neo-Nazi who’s such a cowardly little whiner that even his own compatriots are kind of hoping he’ll take the next bullet.
The movie’s effective execution of its genre would be enough to make it hold up as just a solid little thriller, but Siege puts in a little more work than that. There are a couple of genuinely striking shots here, for example–especially one with a rifle being slowly lifted out of the frame. And while the movie is of its era–and it makes sure to provide a couple of straight, good-looking, able-bodied leads–but it’s also striving to genuinely consider its characters as people. Even if it lapses into stereotypes by default, there’s a real attempt to dole out empathy and agency and to include a wider sample of humanity than usual. (Crucially, it’s a wider sample of humanity than the New Order would like.) There’s also one blink-and-you-miss-it line that comes back in a startling-but-inevitable way in the movie’s final moments, making for a killer last shot that’s just as potent now as it was in 1983. If you have any kind of soft spot for the kind of low-budget, unabashedly genre movies of this period, this is definitely worth checking out.
Siege is streaming on Shudder.