THE RETALIATORS

★★★

A GORY, HEAVY METAL CHRISTMAS REVENGE FLICK

THEATRICAL REVIEW
By Jake Watt
12th September 2022

There is a lot to be said for getting together with a few mates, cracking some beers and watching some promising-sounding trash. However, if the flick in question only has a few juicy scenes and cornball lines of dialogue between long stretches of boredom, the devastation it can wreak upon a friendship is incalculable. Fear not: co-directors Samuel Gonzalez Jr, Bridget Smith and Michael Lombardi's 'The Retaliators' is built to be an exception.

Widowed Pastor Johnny Bishop (Michael Lombardi, TV's 'The Deuce') allows his daughter Sarah (Katie Kelly) to go to a Christmas party where there might be hormonal young dudes present. After stopping for gas, she unluckily ends up being zip-tied to the steering wheel of her car as it is pushed into a lake by criminal dirtbag Ram Kady (the intense Joseph Gatt, TV's 'Banshee' and 'Game of Thrones').

SWITCH: 'THE RETALIATORS' TRAILER

Pastor Bishop decides to take justice into his own hands, teaming up with Jed (the always terrific Marc Menchaca, 'Alone', TV's 'The Outsider' and 'Ozark'), the conflicted detective assigned to the case. The pastor is offered one minute alone with the man who murdered his daughter - the only rule being that he can't kill him in return. Unfortunately, Ram has his own friends and family who go looking for him.

'The Retaliators' has two credited writers, three directors, two wildly differing tones (a sombre meditation on grief slammed together with bonkers horror) and countless cameos from real-life rock stars whose songs feature on the film's soundtrack, which is anchored by an original score from Emmy-winning composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of 'Stranger Things'. Mötley Crüe's Tommy Lee, Five Finger Death Punch, The Hu, Ice Nine Kills, Escape the Fate and many more pop up. Jacoby Shaddix from Papa Roach plays a rapist/murderer in a flashback. It's also a Christmas film.

'The Retaliators' has two credited writers, three directors, two wildly differing tones (a sombre meditation on grief slammed together with bonkers horror) and countless cameos from real-life rock stars.

The acting from the musicians is, to put it generously, bad. The music is rather good, though. Also on the plus side are the effective and stylish practical effects, coupled with DP Joseph Hennigan's attractively-filmed action, which turns New Jersey into a backdrop of sleazy, mundane menace.

'The Retaliators' knows exactly what it is and whom it's meant to attract. This isn't a deep dive into the cycle of violence and its transformative effects, a la Jeremy Saulnier's 'Blue Ruin' or even Dennis Iliadis' 'Last House on the Left' remake. It's a hyper-violent, self-conscious throwback to the sort of grindhouse flicks that briefly came back into vogue with Robert Rodriguez's 'Machete' and Jason Eisener's 'Hobo with a Shotgun', and arguably peaked with Panos Cosmatos' 'Mandy'.

Anchored by the strong performances of Lombardi, Mechacha and Gatt, 'The Retaliators' is creative and perverse, with gore galore and plenty of quotable dialogue. Crucially, it's never boring, which is the key criterion for watching these kinds of movies with friends and a couple of beers on a Saturday night.

'The Retaliators' is in cinemas on the 14th and 16th September, and available on streaming from the 21st October 2022.

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