Horror isn’t exactly a feminist genre, but at least since movies like Halloween and Alien in the 70s, its celebrated female protagonists and female point-of-view characters. The ‘Final Girl' is the one who slashes the looming Michael, Jason, or Freddie. It’s her who’s left standing at the end drenched in the blood of the giant looming daddy thing. That’s not necessarily a subtle political vision, but it helps explain why the genre’s audience is 60% women.
In that context, the patriarchal tropes in The Retaliators really stand out. It’s directed by Bridget Smith and Samuel Gonzalez Jr., one of whom is a woman. But the plodding machismo of The Geare Brothers seems to have won out over anyone else’s vision.
Whoever’s responsible, though, this is a sad glob of genre gruel which kills off various underdeveloped female characters in order to teach its male protagonist father figure the virtues of uber-violence and forceful parenting.
Die Hard in a Bad Movie
The daddy figure in question is a widowed preacher named Bishop (Michael Lombardi) who is raising two daughters on his own. Despite a tough fitness regime and an obsession with action movies like Die Hard, Bishop believes Christ doesn’t believe in violence. He’s also a softy who lets his teen daughter Sarah (TikTok influencer Katie Kelly) go out to a party.
These intimations of weakness lead predictably to disaster, set to a soundtrack of third-rate heavy metal. Because she was allowed to leave the house without supervision, Sarah accidentally witnesses a gang kidnapping in progress by Ram Kady (Joseph Kat.)
The inevitable Death Wish revenge plot is then derailed by a whole heap of other pulp bits and pieces. The confusion might in theory be interesting, if all those bits and pieces were new in any way, or if they were, shuffled together with any inspiration or wit.
There’s a gang boss rant straight out of Scorsese or Coppola (though without that style.) We get thoroughly gratuitous glimpses of strip clubs and women grinding because that’s the sort of thing you put in a movie if you’re Nikki Sixx.
There’s also a whole other narrative thrown in about a father pushed to violence by an assault on his beloved womenfolk—this time involving a cop named Jed (Marc Menchaca.) Jed thinks he’s in a Saw movie, and tries to drag Bishop in there with him, as he rants on and on about the healing power of torturing bad people.
Then at the end everything devolves into a zombie movie, with decapitations, gouts of blood, and so forth, before a final home invasion denouement. Bishop even gets to quip at the end like Bruce Willis over the bodies of his tormentors. “Merry Christmas!” he says. That’s what passes for clever in this film.
Peace, Love, and Killing for Christ
The Retaliators is not much fun to watch. But it is somewhat interesting as a case study of how a certain kind of hypocritical denunciation of violence can provide justification for…well, basically anything.
It’s perhaps overly generous to accuse The Retaliators of having a central emotional conflict. But to the extent it’s trying to be about anything, it’s about the conflict between Bishop’s Christian faith in peace and his overwhelming anger and rage for revenge.
Bishop believes, as he says, that you should put down the sword and trust in The Word. His daughter’s brutal death tests his commitment though. Does God even exist in a world where such horrible things happen? Bishop is tested sorely. But even so, when offered a chance to enact bloody revenge on Sarah’s murderer, he refuses to cross the line.
The movie doesn’t make Bishop a moral guy in order to demonstrate the futility of violence, though. Rather, his repeated refusal to resort to fists/guns/implements of horrific torture establishes him as a good, moral, upright Christian and father. The more he refuses violence, the better he is. and the better he is, the purer his motivation, the more righteously justified he is when he does finally start to kill.
Revenge narratives always separate people into the good—who can do anything—and the bad—who must be punished. These narratives aren’t usually subtle. But even by those standards, The Retaliators exposes its mechanics with unusual clumsiness.
It also shows how those mechanics can be linked to male Christian power and prerogatives. This is, after all, a whole movie insisting over and over for 95 minutes that Christian men have a right and a duty to embrace violence in order to protect and revenge their children—innocent and unborn.
In a country increasingly governed by theocrats wielding the power of the state while intoning merciless prayers, the image of the nice pastor smiling while soaked in blood has a queasy resonance. That’s not a reason to see it, though. Rather the opposite.
The Retaliators finds its way into theaters Wednesday, September 14th. Keep it here for the latest on all the movies in theaters now.
Rating: 1.5/10 SPECS
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Noah Berlatsky is a freelance writer based in Chicago. His book, Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics was published by Rutgers University Press. He thinks the Adam West Batman is the best Batman, darn it.