Cody talks revenge, zombies, and a drive-in experience.
There have been a whole lot of rape/revenge movies made over the years, so when you put one on you have a good idea of what you're going to be getting. A lot of them deal with a timid person who finds a primal strength within themselves after suffering trauma at the hands of a group of scumbags, allowing them to turn the tables on their attackers.
The latest entry in this thriller sub-genre is Julia, the feature debut of writer/director Matthew A. Brown, and while Brown's film has all the usual tropes, the filmmaker also throws in some twists and turns along the way that make his film stand out from the pack. These unique elements cast a shadow of moral ambiguity over the film, denying the viewer a simple, cathartic experience of seeing bloody vengeance wreaked upon the deserving. It's more complicated, and less fulfilling, than that.
The film stars The Human Centipede's Ashley C. Williams in the eponymous role of Julia, a meek young woman we're introduced to as she arrives at the apartment of a med student who has asked her out on a date after meeting her at the plastic surgery clinic where she works as a nurse. They never actually go on that date. He drugs her drink with a substance that leaves her immobile and unable to speak but conscious as he and three friends beat and rape her. When the attack is over, the guys dump her at a waterfront, hoping the tide will take her out to sea and drown her.
Instead, Julia survives, keeping the attack secret. While trying to recover, she learns of an underground therapy program run by the mysterious Dr. Sgundud, who's played by Jack Noseworthy, an actor I remember from films like Event Horizon and Idle Hands but haven't seen in anything for years. It takes a while to see him here, as Brown tends to keep him off screen or out of focus. Sgundud's approach to helping women find strength after being victimized is very unorthodox: he recommends random acts of violence be carried out on men that the women he's treating are able to lure into their clutches. Sometimes a simple beatdown in a club bathroom will suffice, other times the girls go further. We're talking castrations and murders.
With fellow program member Sadie (an impressive Tahyna Tozzi) as her mentor, Julia does as Sgundud suggests. And this is where the film, and Julia, started to lose me. Sgundud operates with strict rules that forbid the girls from getting revenge directly on their attackers. Their enemies are a certain type of man in general. Destroying them is their way to power. If they seek revenge, they are keeping themselves in a victim mindset, and there are harsh punishments for that. So, sure, a revenge film can sometimes still be satisfying even if the perpetrators of the inciting incident aren't brought to justice. After all, Paul Kersey never got the guys who attacked his wife and daughter in the original Death Wish, he was just striking out at any criminal he came across. But these aren't criminals Julia and her cohorts are killing, they're just random dudes, and when the lead is killing the undeserving and then making out with their lover while covered in the blood of the innocent, they're no longer someone I can root for, and I start wondering why I should continue watching them.
One reason to continue watching Julia regardless is the subtle, captivating performance delivered by Williams. Even as I was repelled by the character, I was drawn in by the way Williams was bringing her to life. Another reason to watch is the often gorgeous cinematography by Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson. I didn't always like what I was watching, but Björgúlfsson did an incredible job making sure it was pretty to look at.
Thankfully for my sensibilities, Julia doesn't fully buy into Sgundud's ideas. She dreams of revenge, and she's willing to risk punishment to get it.
With Julia, Matthew A. Brown has not made a movie that's easy to watch or enjoy. Julia is not a heroine, and this is no rousing "day of the woman". It's a rough, confrontational film populated by unlikeable characters doing terrible things. Setting aside expectations and the hope of getting to care for the main character, accepting Julia as its own unique beast, I find that is a well crafted film and a solid debut for Brown. There is promise here that he may go on to bigger and better things, and the same can be said for his cast and cinematographer.
I don't think Julia is going to join the ranks of the rape/revenge classics, it doesn't give the viewer what they want well enough for that, but it is worth spending a disturbing evening with.
The review above was written for ArrowintheHead.com
From 2001 to 2013, I attended 12 or 24 hour theatrical horror marathons every October. I wrote about the 2011, 2012, and 2013 editions here on the blog. While I haven't made it to the show the last two years, I did go to a mini-marathon of sorts last Friday, a drive-in triple feature.
Leading the line-up was:
CORPSE BRIDE (2005)
A fun, family friendly, stop-motion animated film from directors Tim Burton and Mike Johnson. The story centers on a young man who prepares for his upcoming wedding by practicing his vows out in the woods. He slips the wedding ring onto what he believes is a twig - and it turns out to be the finger of a living dead girl, a murder victim whose corpse was dumped in the forest. (It really is family friendly, I swear.) While trying to get out of this predicament, the man travels back and forth between our world and the land of the dead with his new "bride".
The animation is fantastic and the movie is beautiful to look at, packed with some wonderful, ghoulish sights. It's an enjoyable way to spend 77 minutes... although I spent longer than that watching it.
Corpse Bride was followed by two films that were more firmly in the horror genre, and were the reason I was there, as they're two of my favorites. Friday the 13th (1980) and The Evil Dead (1981), both of which I have written Film Appreciation articles about in the past. (The F13 one with Priscilla.)
While it was great to see these movies on the drive-in screen, 66% of the triple feature was a bit messed up. Corpse Bride and Friday the 13th were both shown at the wrong speeds. They were slightly slowed down, which dropped the pitch of the characters' voices. The females sounded like men and the men sounded like drunk monsters. I noticed this during Corpse Bride, but I had only seen the movie once, ten years ago, so for all I knew that was how it was supposed to be. But when Friday the 13th started, I knew for sure that something was very wrong. I told the only employee I saw around, the concession stand worker, but as it turns out, they were the only employee there at all, so the projectionist wasn't around to fix the problem.
Friday the 13th has a running time of 97 minutes. It lasted for 118 minutes that night.
Thankfully, The Evil Dead played like it was supposed to.
The last update on my watch-along with the Final Girl blog's "horror movie a day" SHOCktober event ended with Devil Seed, the pick for October 11th. The picks for the 12th and 13th were the Spanish films [REC] 3 from 2012 and [REC] 4 from 2014.
I might be talking more about the [REC] movies in the future, with the 2007 original being a contender for a Remake Comparison article since it received an American remake in the form of 2008's Quarantine. But, some quick thoughts:
[REC] is one of the best horror movies to use the found footage approach. What starts as a taping of an episode of a TV program called While You're Asleep that will follow host Ángela Vidal as she documents a night in the life of a firefighting squad becomes a harrowing horror tale when they respond to a call from an apartment building about an old woman screaming inside her locked apartment. When they arrive, they find that the old woman has become a bloodthirsty, flesh-ripping maniac. When they attempt to leave, they find that the entire building has been sealed off by health authorities to contain a virus that is feared to be spreading among the residents. A rabies-like virus that essentially turns the infected into hyperactive, animalistic zombies. It's an instance where the found footage actually does work to enhance the intensity of the situation, and things get very creepy in the third act.
I would have been perfectly fine if [REC] had just been left as a standalone story, but the sequels did come. Released in 2009, [REC] 2 retains the found footage aesthetic but switches points of view throughout. The story picks up immediately after the events of the first film, with a special forces police squad leading a priest into the quarantined building to obtain a blood sample from Tristana Medeiros, the possessed girl who was revealed to be the source of the "demon rabies" virus. It's a fun movie with some exciting moments of action and horror, but doesn't reach the level of the first one.
The first two films were directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paca Plaza together, but the directors split the next two, with Plaza directing [REC] 3: Genesis and Jaume Balagueró directing [REC] 4: Apocalypse.
2012's [REC] 3 starts out as a found footage movie being shot through cameras at a wedding, but that shooting style goes away around 25 minutes in, soon after a zombie outbreak disrupts the festivities. This is because the characters do what most people would do if the situation were real: when they're running for their lives, they ditch the camera. A "parallel sequel" that happens at the same time as its predecessors, Genesis has a much lighter tone and not much new to add, but there's some cool zombie action and a chainsaw is put to use. I'm a sucker for chainsaw fu.
[REC] 4 made its debut in 2014, and although seven years had passed since the original, it still picks up directly after the events of that film and [REC] 2. Ángela Vidal is extracted from that cursed apartment building and taken, along with a police officer introduced at the beginning of the film and a survivor of part 3, to a ship at sea that's populated by scientists and armed guards. Of course, yet another demon-zombie outbreak occurs on this ship. Another dark and serious entry in the series, this one throws out the found footage approach completely. It's decently entertaining, but the formula is feeling very tired at this point.