The trailer for The Retaliators paints a pretty clear picture of what this film is going to be about: a father looking to get revenge against the man who kills his daughter. So when the film begins and you watch a pair of girls lost in the woods suddenly coming under attack from what looks like zombies I don’t think I could be blamed for having to double check I’m watching the right film. The Retaliators begins by subverting your expectations, and flips between genres more than once in a move that will leave most audiences wondering just what they’ve watched.
After the aforementioned open, The Retaliators introduces us to a family shopping for their Christmas tree as the holiday season sets in. The father, a sensitive community pastor named John (Michael Lombardi), gets into an altercation when another man steals their tree, but turns the other cheek, and does nothing about it. His daughters, Sarah (Katie Kelly) and Rebecca (Abbey Hafer) are left somewhat disappointed in him, and John ends up feeling unsure if he did the right thing or not.
In an attempt to make himself look better he allows Sarah to go out to a Christmas party with her friends; a big change from his normal overprotective way of doing things. Unfortunately for her, she crosses paths with Ram (Joseph Gatt), a murderous criminal who has a man tied up in the boot of his car. Realising that Sarah has heard the man, Ram chases after her, runs her car off the road, and drowns her in the river.
A short time after the event Bishop is approached by Jed (Marc Menchaca), a police detective who has a unique proposition for him. He’s captured Ram, and has him tied up and tortured in a remote location. Bishop is given the chance to spend one minute alone with Ram, able to do whatever he wants to him, as long as he doesn’t kill him. Unfortunately, other criminals are on Ram’s trail and are close to finding him. How does this all connect to the zombie opening? Well, you’re just going to have to watch the film to find that one out.
There are times when The Retaliators seems to be trying to be more than one kind of movie. The opening scene notwithstanding, the start of the film spends time getting to know the Bishop family, showing us the relationship between John and his eldest daughter. John is overprotective, but also doesn’t want to resort to being aggressive or violent to protect his family. His daughter respects him, but is starting to feel that respect wavering because he let Dante from Clerks steal their Christmas tree. They’re not perfect, but they clearly care about each other, and as such you do feel it when John gets a panicked phone call from Sarah as a man is trying to kill her.
The film tries to spend time with the grief of the Bishop family, showing the funeral, and how the community comes together around them, yet John feels isolated and alone in his grief. His youngest daughter Rebecca retreats into herself a little, and the energy and joy she brought to the performance in the early scenes has gone. Even the wild premise of the detective capturing criminals off the street for the families of their victims to get revenge on is treated with more seriousness than you’d first think, with Jed’s backstory being a pretty harrowing one.
But the film’s third act mirrors the opening as it switches gears, does a hard turn, and jumps the shark, as it turns from grim crime story into a horror gore-fest. It feels like the end of a very different movie has been tacked onto The Retaliatos, and whilst it isn’t un-entertaining, it’s such a huge tonal whiplash that it makes it hard to still feel connected to this story and its characters.
Whilst the cast try their best to make the characters feel genuine throughout, there are times where the acting falls a little flatter than is best too, as there are more than one scene where the characters are delivering emotional lines in an almost casual way. Whilst they’re not bad actors by any stretch, there are times where it feels like they’re just unable to hit the emotional beats the film calls far. A lot of the supporting cast are also made up from musicians and band members who feature in the film’s soundtrack.
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The Retaliators isn’t a bad film, but it’s not amazing either. It occupies a middle ground of being entertaining enough to be enjoyable, yet probably won’t be a film that people are quick to go out and recommend, or to watch again. It tries to do something different, and whilst it might not always work, it does at least stand out.
The Retaliators is out in cinemas on 14th September.