Directed by Matthew A. Brown.
Starring Ashley C. Williams, Tahyna Tozzi, Jack Noseworthy and Ryan Cooper.
A neon-noir revenge thriller centering on Julia Shames, who after suffering a brutal trauma, falls prey to an unorthodox form of therapy to restore herself.
In the vein of infamous rape-revenge fantasies such as I Spit on Your Grave and Ms. 45 comes Julia, the first feature-length production from writer and director Matthew A. Brown and one whose synopsis will be off-putting to many of the movie-going public. The overarching question of movies dealing with the subject of rape and its aftermath is whether not they have something to say or if it’s merely an act used to fill in the blank of character motivation, and to his credit Matthew Brown does dig deeper than your average 70s exploitation movie.
Emerging in slow motion from a New York subway and set to Swedish band Ske’s ‘Julietta 1’ we meet Julia (Ashley C. Williams), and without a single word spoken we have learned everything we need to know. Julia is meek and physically withdrawn, but there is clearly more to her than her over-sized scarf and glasses imply. She is on her way to a first date with Piers (Ryan Cooper), one which ends in Julia being sexually assaulted by Piers and three of his friends. In the wake of this event she begins patronising a local bar in which she overhears a discussion about a new kind of empowerment therapy for victims of rape, one which allows the patient to redress the balance of power “internally and externally”. Under the tutelage of Dr. Sgundud (Jack Noseworthy) Julia begins to indirectly seek her revenge against men by perpetrating acts of violence upon random victims – it’s made clear that she is not to make her ‘therapy’ personal, and as such it is forbidden to seek revenge against those who directly harmed her.
Ashley C. Williams performance is the film’s strongest point, showcasing a doe-eyed emotional vulnerability before it is stripped away and supplanted with a quietly burning hatred. Her turn as Julia also helps to temper some of the more outré scenes (including a castration) and helps keep the viewer invested in Julia as a person and not simply admiring her work as an agent of vengeance. The film does also deliver on its promise of ‘neon-noir’ with Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson’s slick cinematography a stand-out amongst the genre.
Power and control are at the forefront throughout Julia, and we learn it was her parents who first stripped her of both, with her father sexually assaulting her as a child and her mother laying blame at her feet. It’s clear that Brown’s interests are in detailing a life of personal disempowerment and whether or not it’s something that can be reclaimed in a society dominated by men. Indeed, the fact that Julia’s transformation is brought about by a man acting as father figure to dozens of disempowered women is an irony not lost on the director. They are women who have lost one form of control only to have it replaced by another. These are interesting issues worth exploring, however they are muddied as the film progresses and some of the genre elements overwhelm the other aspects, including Dr. Sgundud’s turn from nefarious manipulator to baseball bat-wielding egomaniac.
There are no easy answers to the questions posed by Julia’s first half, but the juggling act between social commentary, fetish-feminism and plot becomes such that a satisfactory conclusion is all but impossible. The cult-like nature of Dr. Sgundud’s followers (right down to the hooded robes), the doomed romance of Julia and Sadie and the question that hangs over Julia’s mental state fall short of satisfactorily coalescing and giving meaning to the preceding events. While it may struggle with its own questions Julia is visually arresting and raises some interesting questions, offering some form of power to its victims instead of just another observer.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★