The Retaliators, 2021.
Directed by Samuel Gonzalez Jr. and Bridget Smith.
Starring Michael Lombardi, Marc Menchaca, Joseph Gatt, Katie Kelly, and Abbey Hafer.
An upstanding pastor uncovers a dark and twisted underworld as he searches for answers surrounding his daughter’s brutal murder.
The dead-ordinary revenge thriller is uneasily if entertainingly remixed in Samuel Gonzalez Jr. and Bridget Smith’s The Retaliators, which while struggling to strike a consistent tone is bolstered by Michael Lombardi’s compelling central performance.
“When do the sins of a good man make him bad?,” an opening voiceover asks the audience, before a dutiful New Jersey pastor (Lombardi) learns of his daughter’s horrifying murder at the hands of a local criminal (Joseph Gatt). As the pastor seeks out answers, he finds himself traveling down an increasingly dark and vengeful path, one encouraged by a detective, Jed (Marc Menchaca), with his own mysterious motivations for capturing the perp.
At its core, this is a relatively familiar take on the revenge movie, awash with thickly-laid dialogue double-underlining the central themes, even if there are a few sneaky subversions – particularly of horror’s most overstuffed subgenre right now (but to say which would be a bit of a spoiler).
Despite its serious-minded, oft-philsophical dialogue, this is also a movie where a character talks about cocaine “as white as Snow White’s ass cheeks,” so don’t dare mistake it for a classy affair. Though capably shot and well-acted throughout, The Retaliators ends up pulling itself awkwardly between two poles of mood; a grim meditation on grief and a gonzo-schlock splatter movie.
These competing tones do prove a tad jarring sometimes, neither going hard enough to satisfy gore-hounds – despite a welcome amping-up of the ultra-violence in the final stretch – nor deliver a particularly fresh character study. Nothing here proves more memorable or effective, ultimately, than the deeply discomforting first-act murder of the pastor’s daughter – zip-tied to her steering wheel before her car is pushed into a lake, leaving her to drown helplessly.
Further complicating the soupy tonality is the addition of aggressive rock music from the likes of Papa Roach. Though fans of the band will no doubt find amusement in a fun cameo from Jacoby Shaddix as a veritable psychopath, music from his and other well-known rock outfits feels at odds with the film’s oft-somber musings on the nature of violence and revenge. One suspects these heightened musical choices were an attempt to elevate the fairly generic storytelling, but it doesn’t always work.
Despite the 97-minute runtime, the film is also bogged down by a few subplots too many; constant cutaways to both the criminal enterprise responsible for the pastor’s bereavement and the aforementioned detective add narrative baggage to a story which would’ve done better to focus on a vengeful preacher reconciling his religious predilections with his desire to avenge. As a result it feels unfocused it not outright padded.
But Michael Lombardi deserves considerable credit for persuading as the earnest preacher pushed to violent ends, adequately selling the transformation even when the script could be doing more to help him. Marc Menchaca also does fine work as the grizzled detective Jed, and Joseph Gatt gives a fittingly imposing turn as the hulking criminal responsible for the pastor’s daughter’s death. In an amusing cameo, Clerks star Brian O’Halloran also turns up as a man appropriately credited as “Obnoxious Guy at XMas Tree Place.”
DP Joseph Hennigan’s sharp lensing helps affirm a keen sense of atmosphere, even if the editing can feel overly busy and imprecise at times, and mileage will surely vary on some occasional music video-esque speed-ramping. Even so, given the clearly modest price point at play, it’s a fairly handsomely mounted movie.
Though the film arguably gets a little too silly for its own good in the third act, Lombardi’s performance carries it through from first frame to last, elevating its more formulaic leanings. A boilerplate revenge thriller periodically energised by its punk-rock splatter movie gloss, The Retaliators nevertheless succeeds largely thanks to Michael Lombardi’s engrossing work in the lead role.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.