REVIEW: The Retaliators (2021)

dir. Samuel Gonzalez Jr and Bridget Smith

After an intriguing opening (which the film rarely matches), Samuel Gonzalez Jr. and Bridget Smith’s new horror has ample potential but is instead frequently frustrating. The narrative weaves several threads together as it follows a pastor (Michael Lombardi) seeking revenge for the murder of his teenage daughter on Christmas Eve. Her murderer (Joseph Gatt) is in the midst of blowing up a drug deal and is thus being hunted by a biker gang. And with these two characters on a collision course – along with a detective (Marc Menchaca) – the results are predictably violent.

To be charitable, The Retaliators makes some interesting points about toxic masculinity and the cycle of violence it breeds. But its hard for these themes to properly resonate when the gender politics feel so archaic. Female characters are designated victims or set dressing, which isn’t to say that the male figures are particularly developed either: just that they actually feel a part of the narrative. It’s a wider issue across the board with a film awash with tired tropes: it could have been made at any point in the past two decades and would have felt immediately dated.

Flashes of quality do exist (Joseph Hennigan’s cinematography is especially praiseworthy, with an aesthetic that looks a step above its indie roots) but these are lost in a fog of mediocrity, at best playing like a handsomely staged, violent music video. As such there is some enjoyment to be had when it cuts loose (even with the confused morality at its core), but the journey probably isn’t worth it for a fun final act.

Russell Bailey

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