Currently famed for her direction of Booksmart, Olivia Wilde jumps in front of the camera for the bleak but engaging domestic abuse drama A Vigilante.
Sadie (Wilde) is the vigilante of the title. First presented as a hired gun in helping victims of domestic abuse ‘get rid’ of their abuser – a simple beating mostly – she disguises herself with a wig and makeup not only to remain slightly mysterious, but also to evade her past. Jumping back and forth from the present to the past, Sadie’s life is more tragic than you could imagine.
When carrying out her work, Sadie’s beating of abusers is not explicitly presented on screen, except for maybe a punch or two. To see Sadie punch a worthless man in the throat, then only seconds later – an unknown jump in story time – said man is completed bloodied and ruined, A Vigilante’s spectator will go, “Oh, sh*t!”
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For a film to be visually striking, the audience does not always need to be shown the violence, but instead, just simply know what has happened. Such is the case with A Vigilante; though to contradict its own ethos, a fair bit of male-female violence is shown later on, and in the third act does stick out like a sore thumb, so be prepared.
Wilde’s Sadie is tough – she has a calm, yet threatening presence, despite not being the most physically overwhelming. But it is in her physicality that we see her troubles and intentions. Wilde is terrific in displaying Sadie’s PTSD through abuse to the point where it becomes uncomfortable to watch – there is a ‘real’ feel to this. This ferocious display of PTSD can be likened to a demonic creature wanting to escape from the body of Sadie – a visual scarier than anything from any horror film. And a visual from a very real horror suffered by women everywhere.
Without sounding like a complaint, A Vigilante is somewhat bare – it is no piece of extravagant filmmaking. There is no damning score, nor are there any awe-inspiring shots or sequences. The ‘limited’ production is what establishes the real and gritty nature of A Vigilante. Thinking logically, why would a film about domestic abuse be subject to a flamboyant colour palette and Michael Bay shots?
A word of warning, heavy warning: A Vigilante is not an explicit, all-out action/revenge film. This is in no way a modern day Sudden Impact. Early on, there is a feel that this could be a film completely consisting of Sadie beating up various abusers, but then she hits the wrong one, then she’s a wanted woman, and the police are after the mystery vigilante too… But no, A Vigilante is far from that, though that could actually disappoint some audience expectations if that is what is desired.
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There is a theoretical interest in the title of this film. Being titled as A Vigilante, rather than ‘The Vigilante’, establishes a suggestion that Sadie is one of many and not the sole or definitive person in her current agenda. Being that Sadie is an abused woman fighting for abused women, there is a hope that the title suggests there to be an existence of individuals fighting for abuse victims.
A great question of curiosity is whether Sarah Dagger-Nickson’s A Vigilante could be read as a film supportive of those who have been on the receiving end of domestic abuse and/or an inspiration piece for those imagining getting physical revenge. Ultimately, whichever way A Vigilante is read, this revenge film is a tragic tale, worthy of your time.