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Mayhem!: Film Review

Mayhem! is a well-rounded crime thriller with an engaging narrative that features outstanding fight choreography and bone-breaking, no-holds-barred violence.

I’ll be honest: If it features vengeance and hand-to-hand (or foot-to-face) combat, I’m probably watching it, and if you find yourself cut from the same cloth, you’re gonna want to see the new French crime thriller Mayhem!. Directed by Xavier Gens (Frontiers, Cold Skin), it’s making quite a name for itself on the film circuit. While its tale is quite familiar, the film stands out for two reasons: its outstanding fight choreography and its no-holds-barred violence. I’d also throw in the performance of lead actor Nassim Lyes (Julia TV series). Mayhem! is one exciting action movie that’s certainly worth watching.

Mayhem! opens in France, where our lead character Samir (Lyes) is in prison serving time for a drug offense. Samir is a professional boxer and mixed martial artist who found himself working for a mobster and subsequently getting busted by police during a drug run. A model prisoner who served good time, Samir is released on a one-day parole to work a test-run at a construction job, where he will hopefully line up a future to await him once he’s officially released. But the second he hits the streets, it doesn’t take long for the mobster’s henchmen to find and harass him. And by harass, I mean assault.

Samir—clearly a graduate of the Tom Cruise School of Running—quickly escapes them to avoid any trouble, and to avoid the possibility of ruining his upcoming release from prison. However, the henchmen find him at the construction site where he worked and a beatdown takes place, but not of Samir. One henchman is left badly injured and the other dead from an unfortunate mishap. With a death on his hands, Samir knows he only has one choice: run.

Cut to five years later and Samir, now going by Sam, is living in on an exotic island in Thailand with his wife and young stepdaughter, his son on the way. He has built himself a simple life working as a baggage handler at a resort and moonlighting as a professional fighter. Sam is an exceptional fighter who’s focused, calm, reserved, and brutal. He also has the patience of Job. His strikes are quick, clean, and pack an explosive punch, but he finds himself making better money to throw some fights than to win them all—something his trainer Hansa (Vithaya Pansringarm, of Deliver Us from Evil) does not stand for but tolerates. because he loves Sam like a son and knows he needs the money for a new shorefront property.

Mia (Loryn Nounay, of Skam France) works at a local restaurant and bar owned by Hansa’s brother, Sombat (Sahajak Boonthanakit, of S.W.A.T.). She and her daughter Dara (Chananticha Tang-Kwa, of The Creator) are bright fixtures there, and it’s clear they are considered family to Hansa and Sambhot. Mia dreams of a beachfront property for her own business, and when the sale falls through thanks to a last-minute higher bidder, her dreams are dashed. Sam vows to find out who this bidder is and try to convince him to rescind his bid.

Nassim Lyes as “Sam” and Sahajak Boonthanakit as “Sombat” in Xavier Gens’ Mayhem! (Courtesy of Thanaporn Arkmanon. An IFC Films Release.)

But, as it turns out, mobsters exist is every corner, nook, and cranny of the world, even in remote areas of East Thailand. Sam meets local crime lord and sleazeball Narong (Olivier Gourmet, of Moloch TV series) and subsequently accepts his offer to do one job in exchange for the beachfront property. Since Sam is connected to the local airport via his resort gig and has a specific entry badge, Narong wants him to move some narcotics and pass them off to one of his secret henchmen. But when police close in just as he is cleared to enter, Sam again faces one choice: run.

I have to say, not only are Lyes’s acting and fight skills impressive, but so, too, are his running skills. In a dash he loses police and makes his way back home to grab Mia and Dara before anyone else can. Just as they go to leave, Narong’s crew shows up, and bloody carnage ensues. Sam manages to hold his own against close to a dozen men armed with different weapons in a no-holds-barred brawl riddled with outstanding fight choreography and some pretty creative kills … none with guns though, which, for me, is the best part. While Sam kills many, he doesn’t kill them all, and he winds up badly injured.

During the melee, Dara is kidnapped, and when Mia is killed right before Sam’s eyes, the bear awakens, and he vows revenge (punishment is more like it). Right before the surviving henchmen leave, they set fire to Sam and Mia’s house. Sam barely escapes with his life and falls in the waters beneath his burning residence, where he’s fished out by Hansa and nursed back to health. He then sets out to find Narong and, in the process, learns Dara is alive. When Hansa hears this, he weapons up and the two set out to locate her. You’ll have to watch, though, to see how the story unfolds and why all this has happened.

Mayhem! takes us through a wide variety of locations throughout its narrative, from different areas of France to Eastern Thailand and on to Bangkok, each location featuring its own climactic action and providing clues advancing us on to the next plot, making for a well-rounded story of redemption … and hope.

Mayhem! is, without a doubt, a fantastic addition to the hand-to-hand combat canon, but to say it rivals John Wick and The Raid is a bit of a stretch. It absolutely holds its own, though. Whereas John Wick and The Raid feature non-stop hand-to-hand-combat action, Mayhem! gives us action in spurts, allowing enough time to establish its narrative so it can successfully play out, which it does. Mayhem! might not be loaded with non-stop action, but when the action happens, it is nonstop and leaves you breathless.

Mayhem!: Trailer (IFC Films)

Also, too, with The Raid and John Wick, the combat action—while badass in its entirety—involves so many people and moves so quickly, it’s often difficult to discern all the cool choreography. That’s not the case with Mayhem!. Throughout the movie, it’s Sam against everyone else, in small groups. And here’s where I have to give a shout-out to the cinematography team. The camera work is smooth and up close and personal, and when Sam goes in for key strikes on those super-creative kills sequences, the camera is placed at precise angles so we can see exactly what’s happening at a pace allowing us to experience, absorb, and appreciate all of Mayhem’sexceptional martial techniques.

What should you expect to see in Mayhem!? Clever bone breaks that often leave bones protruding through the skin (some of which are then used as weapons in attacks), rib-splitting machete kills, and faces beaten in with a pool ball—a scene definitely worthy of rivaling the scene in John Wick 3 where John uses a hardback book as a weapon. I’ll spare you on the rest of the kills, but they are explosive.

Overall, Mayhem! is a well-rounded crime thriller with an engaging narrative and some epic action sequences, topped off with stellar acting and cinematography, making for an enjoyable watch for fans of hand-to-hand combat action movies.

Mayhem! will be released in US theatres on January 5, 2024.

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