Review: THE RETALIATORS, Bombastic and Bloody Climax Saves the Day
It's Christmas time and pastor Bishop (no, really) is preparing to spend the holidays with his two daughters, Sarah and Rebecca. A devout man, he holds steadfast to the principles of his faith. But even the most faithful followers are tested and after Sarah is murdered Bishop will discover what kind of man he truly is. What will he do when confronted with the truth behind her death and the consequences that come with that knowledge?
Bishop is the pastor of a small town church. He's cutting edge with a punk band leading worship in the background and comes complete with a cringe joke about getting blue hair before the next service. He looks after his two daughters on his own, including Sarah a burgeoning teenager. Both are good kids and nothing suggests that Sarah is going to come down with a case of PK syndrome, she'd just like to go to this really cool party after the next service.
Bishop is a good man. An incident at a tree farm shows his commitment to turning the other cheek and not letting an outburst of agression get the better of him. His near-Job moment is yet to come though when Sarah is needlessly murdered on her way to the party. When the identity of the killer is finally discovered will Bishop carry out revenge or rise above?
Directors Bridget Smith and Samuel Gonzales Jr. bookend their film with acts of savage violence, the climax ending up a giant free for all that strangely rings of early Raimi if we're to be honest. There's the always-leaves-falling bit. We give an A+ to the leaf wrangler and their crew. Top marks for leaves falling every damn time we find ourselves outside. In December. We digress, these scenes are a stark change of pace from the rest of the film, the opening volley seemingly unrelated to the story at all.
Yet, joke as we do, this is where The Retaliators is the most fun. This is where they are most creative and what they they should build their resume on. But it has left us guessing where directing duties lie.
If you look back to both filmographies would suggest that Smith handled mostly familial duties and Gonzales Jr. handled the horror and gore. Though it must be said that Gonzales has done his share of personal exploration through a number of films featuring veterans back on home soil, himself a veteran.
But, Mike Walsh, who produced this pic, also produced Bridget Smith's last film, the drama Sno Babies, and her upcoming holiday film Finding Christmas, both starring - wait for it - Katie Kelly who plays Sarah in this film. So... we think our minds are made up about who handled what in this movie.
Bishop's story boils down to one of dualling morality. Who is more dangerous, those evading justice or those seeking it? Is it okay to take revenge and kill the man that killed your daughter? If not, is it then okay to defend yourself by any means necessary to fend off other attackers?
There are some weird cameos, like Brian O'Halloran from the Kevin Smith universe of films playing the dick at the tree farm and Robert Knepper in a brief scene as the gang boss Otto. Likewise, Tommy Lee makes a blink and you miss it appearance as a DJ at the strip club where the gang hangs out. Members of the band Five Finger Death Punch are featured prominantly in the cast, though as an outsider it feels like a gimmick to get bums in seats.
Local Pennsylvanian nu-metal band From Ashes to New, another band on the Better Noise roster with FFDP, makes a humurous guest apperance as the worship band at Bishop's church. However, true credit should go to British actor Joseph Gatt, an intimidating bastard playing the gang member who murders Sarah. He is of the "we don't want to meet him in a dark alley" quality. Utter bastard.
Concern lays in how long viewers are going to be willing to wait to see what Bishop does when he finally confronts the killer. Three story lines weave in and out of each other and we cannot say that the other two, one of the gang searching for a lost brother and lost property, and the other about the cop assigned to the case, hold our interest well enough down the home stretch. That seems to be the film's key flaw, keeping us rapt to the screen. We know there is a will he or won't he moment coming. Just when?
The good news is that the climax of The Retaliators is a bombastic and bloody explosion of violence that rewards your patience through Bishop's journey of Earthly redemption. And it's not a quick over and done moment either. No, no, khudos to the production for not disappointing horror fans in that regard. It runs contrary to scripture found in Romans 12:19 (yeah, we're going to make you read the Bible!) but we really do appreciate this finale.
Review originally published during Screamfest in October 2021. The film will be available as of Friday, October 21, 2022, via various Video On Demand platforms.
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