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Film / Self Defense

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Self Defense (also known as Siege) is a 1983 Canadian action thriller directed by Paul Donovan and Maura O'Connell, starring Tom Nardini and Brenda Bazinet.

The plot is as follows - a neo-fascist group calling themselves the "New Order" (no relation to the band) want to set some "new rules" in town while the police in Halifax, Nova Scotia are on strike. They try to scare all of the patrons in a gay bar, the owner of the establishment is accidentally killed, and the leader of the bullies then decides to execute all witnesses. However, one of the patrons, Daniel (played by Terry-David Despr├ęs), escapes and takes refuge in an isolated block of flats. The young tenants in the house, Horatio and Barbara (Nardini and Bazinet) and their roommates Chester, Patrick, and Steven, refuse to hand over Daniel, and the bullies then decide to get rid of all the residents in the house. This turns out to be not so easy when the young people in the house barricade their apartments and set up traps and arm themselves in order to fight back.

Think of it as being a bit like a Canadian version of Assault on Precinct 13.

This film contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Accidental Murder: When the bar owner refuses to be intimidated by the New Order, they throw him over a table and attempt to sodomize him with a baseball bat until he accidentally rolls off the table, and is impaled on a broken liquor bottle.
  • Big Bad: Cabe, leader of the New Order.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The neo-fascist bullies are all dead, but so are Barbara and Horatio's roommates, and Daniel is mortally wounded. As for the whole police strike, the union disputes are eventually settled and the police return to active duty, but one of the neo-fascists is revealed to be among their ranks.
  • Bury Your Disabled: The first of the protagonists to die is Steve, who is blind and tries to leave the building without knowing of the killers laying in wait outside. Patrick, who is also blind, lasts longer.
  • Bury Your Gays: The bar patrons, and possibly Daniel at the end. All of these deaths, however, are presented as being tragic.
  • Camp Gay: Daniel affects somewhat effeminate mannerisms. Curiously, so does one of the New Order members, which leads to some rather interesting implications. Either that or the latter is merely Camp Straight.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Barbara figures she could use a smoke as she's listening to a radio news report on the ongoing law enforcement crisis.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: When the neo-fascists are one big group, they are easily fooled and routed by the tenants. When they have been whittled down to just Cabe inside the building, it becomes a pseudo-Slasher Film with his impressive stealth skills.
  • Crooks Are Better Armed: The neo-fascists are armed with sub-machine guns, assault rifles and sniper rifles with night vision. The people inside the house are armed with one semi-automatic rifle (with only two bullets) and whatever weapons they can improvise from the stuff inside the house (such as an Aerosol Flamethrower).
  • Disability Superpower: Patrick is blind and personally admits would be useless with a gun, but his hearing is so good he is able to act as an Enemy-Detecting Radar.
  • Drone of Dread: The soundtrack by Drew King and Peter Jermyn consists mainly of this, the primary exception being the ending theme.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Much like in the above-mentioned Assault on Precinct 13, all the action takes place over the course of a single night.
  • Foreshadowing: The neo-fascists show an extensive amount of knowledge in police procedure as they calculate the odds of laying siege to the house Daniel entered before Dawn comes and there's too many witnesses and without making so much of a ruckus that attracts attention and some kind of authority needs to arrive (they figure the odds are in their side and lay siege). It turns out that one of their number — the sniper — works as a police officer, with the implication that the rest were also cops laid as a final pre-credits fright.
  • Hell-Bent for Leather: Cabe wears a distinctive leather jacket, which Daniel uses to identify him during the home invasion.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Daniel uses himself as a Human Shield in order to allow Horatio to get to the neighbouring apartment and arm himself. It's unclear whether he actually dies, however.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Averted. The silencers in the film eliminate some of the noise but not all of it. Enough of the sound is preserved that the protagonists can tell when they're being fired upon.
  • Homophobic Hate Crime: The neo-fascists' hold-up at the gay bar and their subsequent murder of all the patrons save for Daniel.
  • Improvised Weapon: Using various homemade materials including a toy rocket motor, Chester is able to construct an improvised explosive device which he then uses to take out one of the New Order members.
  • Karma Houdini: The Sole Survivor of the neo-fascists is the sniper, who manages to get away despite being severely wounded by shrapnel and starts working his day job once the strike is over: as a policeman. Cue a Scare Chord.
  • Kick the Dog: One of the neo-fascists can be seen harassing a lesbian couple during the hold-up at the gay bar, while another one taunts the bartender with homophobic slurs.
  • Laser Sight: One of the New Order member is equipped with one.
  • Leave No Witnesses: After things go belly-up at the gay bar, the neo-fascists decide to kill all the witnesses.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The New Order, in case you couldn't tell already.
  • No "Police" Option: The main source of tension in the film; the local law enforcement are completely unable to intervene on the protagonists' behalf thanks to their ongoing wage dispute.
  • Not Quite Dead: One of the neo-fascists (the group's sniper) is blown up by a pipe bomb rocket early in the siege and spends a minute apparently dead before before waking up and then spend the rest of the film trying to deal with his wounds to keep on shooting. He shoots Patrick before his rifle's scope finally kicks the bucket and decides to get out. Cabe also withstands being knifed by Barbara and shot by Horatio and tries to shoot them when they are comforting each other, but is taken down by Daniel with an axe.
  • Neutral Female: Barbara refuses to get involved in defending the apartment, and generally doesn't do much beyond standing there being intimidated.
  • Pillow Silencer: Cabe augments the silencer of the Luger he uses to kill the patrons of the bar by using one of these.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: In addition to being neo-fascists, the New Order are also open homophobes.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The plot of the film was inspired a real-life police strike in Halifax two years earlier, during which the city - though mainly the area in the vicinity of the main police station - descended into a state of semi-anarchy for 42 days as the police board argued with the city council over union demands while leaving the streets totally unpatrolled.
  • The Siege: Lampshaded by the film's alternate title.
  • Stock Footage: The film opens with actual news footage of the aforementioned 1981 Halifax police strike.
  • Today, X. Tomorrow, the World!: One of the film's taglines is a variant on this.
    "Today, their city. Tomorrow... yours!"
  • Too Dumb to Live: Steven decides to leave the apartment to pick up some things despite Horatio's protest. The predictable happens.
  • Violence Is Disturbing: The main Aesop of the film. The violence in the film only causes misery for everyone involved, gets several innocent people killed, and is not glorified in any way. As pointed out in this review, the whole thing plays out almost like an NFB anti-violence documentary.