“They say justice doesn’t come easy in an unjust world…”
…Aint that the truth!
Thankfully, the world of fiction is a place where justice is often served up cold and bloody, and in directors Samuel Gonzalez Jr. and Bridget Smith’s The Retaliators, which just premiered at Screamfest, the filmmakers go as heavy as they can on the latter.
But no amount of gore can justify the issues weighing down The Retaliators.
Written by Darren Geare and Jeff Allen Geare (the team’s debut feature), The Retaliators is a tale of violent revenge following John (Michael Lombardi), a peaceful priest and a single father struggling to look like anything but a wimp in the eyes of his daughter, Sarah (Katie Kelly). But after Sarah is brutally murdered one night by a stoic hitman named Ram (with an intimidating performance from Joseph Gatt), John teams up with detective Jed (Marc Menchaca) and sets out on a mission to avenge Sarah at any cost, facing Nazi bikers and all sorts of demented killers along the way.
Sounds badass, right? Well…
The Retaliators starts and ends strong, but woof, does it feel like you’re trapped right there with John and his purgatory of pain as the pacing limps along through the middle.
At first, the film feels like any other action-horror flick. Hot and horny teens on a drive through the woods. Fog machines spitting out atmospheric mist. What appears to be a horde of flesh-hungry zombies, followed by some wince-inducing screams and gleeful splashes of gore.
All good so far. And then we meet John.
John is out with Sarah and his younger daughter, Rebecca (Abbey Hafer), looking to buy a Christmas tree in a rather snowless lot. Some guy steals their tree and Sarah begs, no, insists, that John kick the shit out of him, and then proceeds to call out his manhood later at home. The Retaliators has already lost me, because not only are we supposed to care about Sarah so that her death has an impact later on (she’s kind of a jerk), but it becomes painfully obvious what sort of film this is.
The Retaliators is bro horror all the way down to the Monster energy drinks flowing through its veins. This is a movie about being a goddamn man. If it had chest hair, it would be made of steel. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s a sweaty, bitter taste that won’t go down easy for most. Especially when every female character is reduced to the background and nothing more than a side-piece for John’s motivation.
Seeing as how the film includes a ton of cameos/music from the likes of Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee, Papa Roach, Ice Nine Kills and more—all kick ass, by the way--The Retaliators is exactly the sort of midnight punk horror you’d expect it to be. Joseph Hennigan’s cinematography indulges in the likes of Dutch angles and all sorts of fun techniques, dipped in murky greens and yellows to give the film a dirty, sickly look (except for the few early “happier” moments which are lit so brightly they’d make an angel grimace). From biker bars to seedy strip clubs with dudes snorting cocaine off of strippers asses to demented dwellings of ghastly horror, watching The Retaliators is like roaring through rough terrain on a dirt bike while wasted, wet mud caking your entire body. It’s gross. Grimy. And utterly depraved.
The testosterone level of The Retaliators is through the roof. Shirtless fist fights and steely eyed glares are just some of the ingredients mixed in the formula of this wannabe manliest of manly movies. The Die Hard and Lethal Weapon references are strong, up to a point where I was just waiting for John to drop an “I’m too old for this shit” and send me to another plane of existence, where the waterfalls are made of protein shakes.
Except The Retaliators is never as cool as it thinks it is, takes itself more seriously than it should, and asks for too much patience in-between the few moments of excitement there are.
The middle portion of the film chugs along like a beat-up muscle car well past its prime. Unintentionally corny dialogue abounds. Random flashbacks to things we just watched constantly interrupt the scene. At a certain point of following John silently screaming and bikers going on about some gang war that never comes much into play, I started to ask myself, “did I imagine that opening scene?”
If you can make it past all of the above, The Retaliators does eventually reward the audience with a brutal and bloody third act that is easily the highlight of the movie and lets the filmmakers flex their action horror chops. Limbs fly. Eyes are gouged and there is gore galore. It’s an adrenaline shot to the face that is immensely satisfying and not at all for the squeamish, tossing in moments that feel influenced by some of Wes Craven’s earlier work.
Through and through, The Retaliators is a grungy midnight movie heavy on the testosterone and packing a fist full of sweaty violence. The script is as weak as they come and I doubt much of anything will surprise you, but if a “tough guy” grindhouse comic come to life is your jam, you might at least enjoy the last thirty minutes of this grunting affair.
By Matt Konopka