THE RETALIATORS **** USA 2021 Dir: Samuel Gonzalez Jr, Bridget Smith. 97 mins
Precision-tooled to play like gangbusters at full capacity, suitably lubricated midnight horror festival screenings, this high-energy rock-video-styled festive splatter movie has been marketing its roster of musical guest stars, appearing both on screen and on the soundtrack. Among them: Tommy Lee, Papa Roach’s Jacoby Shaddix, Escape the Fate and Ice Nine Kills. It’s the kind of movie in which the dashing Pastor hero has Five Finger Death Punch playing in the middle of his sermon and no one bats an eyelid. It also opens as it means to go on, with frenetic mayhem built around a deliberately generic set-up: two young women get a flat tyre while travelling through Bumfuck, U.S.A. ominously near an old slaughterhouse. Their fate – and the blood-splattered guy who pops up to “save” them – only makes sense much later.
The handsome Pastor in question is Michael Lombardi, proud pacifist (though big fan of DIE HARD) whose self-restraint is captured early on when avoiding a confrontation with an asshole (CLERKS’ Brian O’Halloran) at a Christmas Tree sale. Subsequently, his teenage daughter, who chastised him for not standing up for himself, happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and ends up murdered by a meth-dealing thug in a muscle car (the suitably imposing Joseph Gatt). World-weary detective Marc Menchaca has his own grim backstory and knows the brutal underworld all too well – offering Lombardi the chance to have “time alone” with his daughter’s killer, far away from the legal system.
Early on, a bout of foot-snapping and teeth-dashing-via-exhaust pipe at an underground car park gives some hint of the hard-edged violence to come. The life’s work of Menchaca turns out to be an elaborately grim personal collection that brings surprise echoes of the caged abductees at the heart of Michael Pataki’s underrated MANSION OF THE DOOMED (1976). Knowing lines like “What kind of backwoods bullshit is this?” confirm no one is taking this too seriously – and it pays off with a rousing, sustained massacre during which one of life’s mild-mannered good guys goes apeshit and gets covered in Bruce Campbell levels of gore. The build-up is snappy fun, but the climactic kitchen-based mano-a-mano sets a high bar that is then gloriously exceeded by the head-in-a-vice farm mayhem that follows. See it, if you can, with an audience, the volume cranked high and wait for the cheers / horrified gasps / raucous laughter.
Review by Steven West