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FrightFest 2021: Blood, Chaos, and Revenge in The Retaliators

The Retaliators is kind of the result I would expect if I put a bunch of horror and metal fans in a room and told them to pool all their favorite things into a brand new film. And why not? Favorite things such as beheadings, pole dancing, studded leather jackets, and Christmas trees can surely combine to make one excellent film, right? I’m not joking.

This is the story of Bishop (Michael Lombardi), not a bishop but a pretty hip preacher and widowed parent to two daughters. It’s also the story of Ram Kady (Joseph Gatt), a violent gangster and conniving drug dealer, who—following an unfortunate chance encounter—murders the elder of Bishop’s daughters, Sarah. Apart from Sarah, the other link between the two strands is Jed (Marc Menchaca), a rough and tragic cop; and when that link falls into place, we find out exactly how The Retaliators earned its name.

As per usual, I’m not going to tell you much about the story but I’m sure you can tell from what I’ve outlined above, this is one chaotic film. Written by brothers Darren Geare and Jeff Allen, it’s clear from the start that it has indeed come from the minds of real genre fans who relish their tropes and seem to tick them off like a checklist. I don’t mean to say that The Retaliators is a Cabin in the Woods-style meta-comedy; it is full of adoring horror homages though, which I’m sure the audience will appreciate as much as the writers.

The opening scene, for example, sees two young women driving in a van at night and taking a wrong turn, just by a sign for a slaughterhouse. One of the women gets out to check on a flat tire, and the other is just starting to worry when a messed-up looking, half-naked backwoods brute appears and is then followed and felled by a man covered in blood. That pretty much sets the scene for the tribute paid to the genre from here forwards, but in terms of the pace and the mood, there’s almost a complete U-turn after this prologue…at least for a while.

Out of the three central characters I mentioned above, Bishop is the one we get to know the most, and his arc holds the plot (loosely) together. He is the clean-cut and clean-thinking brand of pastor, and a stereotype just aching to be broken; his response to Sarah’s death leads him to uncovering some pretty gruesome secrets and to meeting some nasty people who are, yeah, also stereotypes. The underworld characters in this bloody thriller are legion and about as two-dimensional as they come: drug dealers, gang bosses, murderers, and other scum. The only one who holds any real surprise is Menchaca’s Jed; having admired his performances in Ozark, Every Time I Die, and Alone, I made the mistake of expecting a more serious film. But that’s OK, he’s thoroughly worth watching in this one too, and (having not watched the trailer beforehand) the turn his character took was actually quite original.

Joseph Gatt as Ram Kady in The Retaliators

Oh, the music! I don’t know whose idea it was to have The Retaliators virtually seething with contemporary rock and metal, but it works. As the publicity pointed out to me (I’m not in touch enough to have noticed all these myself), Five Finger Death Punch, Tommy Lee, Papa Roach, The Hu, Ice Nine Kills, Escape The Fate, and more appear onscreen and in the soundtrack. Tommy Lee from Mötley Crüe played the DJ in the strip club, for example, and Papa Roach frontman Jacoby Shaddix was a baddie-in-flashback. I can only assume either the writers or directors Samuel Gonzalez Jr. and Bridget Smith are rock fans, but however it came about, the music does add to the rush here and there. If one or more of them is a fan, though, I wonder why the music aligned with the immoral elements in the story?

The Retaliators is a chopped salad mess of a film, with a plot that stretches beyond believable, a change of tone between the good guy’s introduction and the baddies, countless minor characters, and a bloodbath towards the end. Hmm, suddenly I’m remembering Frank and Zed; and not dissimilarly, this one is lots of fun despite the mess. I could have cheered at the way the mild-mannered preacher found a way to let go of his inhibitions, I loved the ridiculous moments of comeuppance (that harked back to Fargo briefly) and grinned when I realized that the rudest Christmas shopper since Krampus was played by Dante from Clerks.

Apart from some twisted fun, what’s it all about though? Well, men, I guess. There are only a small handful of women here (on-screen or mentioned), some of the women are body parts more than characters, and all of them are essentially plot devices. The men, however, have plenty of issues to address, and they like to do so on their own, lone vigilante-style, or lead others down the same path, like a big brother. They protect their women and girls, avenge them, or treat them like trash: nothing in between, and certainly no equal treatment. To a smaller degree, The Retaliators is also about healing from grief, with a suggestion that plucking out the other man’s eye will help a person feel better. There is no examination of whether it should make one feel better, mind you—this is no “message” film—but it certainly seems to do the trick here. There is a great deal of tongue in cheek throughout The Retaliators and I wouldn’t worry too much about what it says or tries to say: it’s bloody entertaining, and that’s what the audience will come for.

The Retaliators held its world premiere in August at Arrow Video FrightFest 2021.

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Written by Alix Turner

Alix discovered both David Lynch and Hardware in 1990, and has been seeking out weird and nasty films ever since (though their tastes have become broader and more cosmopolitan). A few years ago, Alix discovered a fondness for genre festivals and a knack for writing about films, and now cannot seem to stop. They especially appreciate wit and representation on screen, and introducing old favourites to their teenage daughter.

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