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The Retaliators (18)
Starring: Michael Lombardi, Marc Menchaca, Joseph Gatt
Review: RJ Bland
Vengeance is a theme that is as old as cinema itself and the horror genre has been pervaded with it perhaps more than any. The thing is, it's such a simple, straightforward concept and one that connects with most people on a fundamental level. If someone did something horrible to someone you love (or yourself), how far would you be willing to go to level the score? Would it be something that would help you find some level of closure or would you lose a large part of who you were in the process? The reality is, we are hardly ever unlucky enough to have to put this to test in real life. But there's something cathartic in watching this scenario play out on screen. A lot of them are admittedly quite difficult to watch in parts (Last House on the Left, Hard Candy, I Spit On Your Grave, Promising Young Woman) and some of them are rightly considered to be classics (Carrie, The Crow). Revenge movies don't seem to be in decline though and the latest blood-soaked addition is The Retaliators, directed by Bridget Smith and Samuel Gonzalez Jr.
John Bishop (Michael Lombardi) is an unassuming pastor who is doing a solid job at tending to his flock AND raising two daughters Sarah (Katie Kelly) and Rebecca (Abbey Haifer) by himself. However, he's a bit of a pushover. At an outside market, a stranger steps in and claims the Christmas tree that John and his daughters thought they had secured. John fails to impose himself on the situation and the tree is lost, much to his eldest daughter's (Sarah) dismay. His meekness is matched by his overprotective parental approach, however when Sarah convinces him to let her go to a party one night, it seems that he might be loosening up a bit. But John's pessimistic world view that the world is a dangerous place is confirmed when his daughter is killed after she witnesses the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong. As you'd expect, John descends into an emotional abyss but his energy is soon redirected into catching the man responsible for Sarah's death. Enter Detective Jed Sawyer (Marc Menchaca) who offers a rather unconventional path to helping him get justice...
The Retaliators feels a bit like a throwback to something from the early noughties. Any by that, we specifically mean lots of mindless violence to a heavy metal/rock backdrop. It's probably worth mentioning at this point that along with a roaring soundtrack that includes tracks from peeps like Five Finger Death Punch, The Hu, Papa Roach, Ice Nine Kills and Motley Crue we get a host of cameos from some of them too – including Tommy Lee, Jacoby Shaddix, Zoltan Bathory and Ivan L. Moody. None of them are major players in the story but nevertheless it's fun to see one of them pop up every now and then. It's also just part and parcel of a film that feels pulpy and rough and a bit trashy but that's also the reason the film works. There's an almost zealous approach to the plot and film-making that makes for a lively and entertaining viewing experience. Occasionally it leads to characters and plot strands that never develop beyond an initial idea but on the whole, these oversights are forgivable. The unpredictable yet gratifying shifts in genre and tone see to that. One minute we're dealing with loss and anguish, the next, someone is getting their eye gouged out (or something similar). You never can be quite sure of what you'll be served up next.
There are some other potential hurdles to overcome however. It's fair to say that women don't get much of a role to play here. They're either victims of violence or they are gyrating in strip clubs. It's not ideal – however this is pretty much the deal in hit films like Taken (2008) and there was scant criticism of that. We were all too busy enjoying watching Liam Neeson bust some chops. Enough effort is made to develop Katie Kelly's character (Sarah) for this to not feel completely one sided at least. Structurally, The Retaliators feels a tad lop-sided too. Whilst the final act is the bloodbath that we've been promised, it feels as if there were a few beats before this that we could have done with. The focus on the more spurious plot threads occasionally do eat into the more interesting stuff – such as the relationship between John and Jed (brilliantly played by Marc Menchaca). Michael Lombardi (John) is decent here too, although we're going to be looking into what kind of black magic he's using to make himself look ten years younger than he actually is (there's no way he's 46).
However, the film's exploitation roots mean that it's able to deflect most of these blemishes. The Retaliators requires you to buy into its uneven gonzo charm and if you are ready and willing to commit, then it's a lot of fun. It's also set at Christmas too, which just adds in a random dollop of whimsy too for good measure.
To some, The Retaliators may feel a bit too much of a genre scramble. But for others (ourselves included), it's a boisterous old school mash-up that ticks most of those pulpy boxes.
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