Rape/Revenge films given the subject matter, are often difficult to sit through and more often than not even more difficult to review. There is probably no more horrific act that can take place on screen than watching a woman getting brutally raped by a group of men and more often than not, left to die. That doesn't mean that rape/revenge films are simply snuff without any artistic merit. It's been widely proselytized on this site that the original Last House On The Left is one of my gateway films. It led me down the horror film path and is in many ways directly responsible for the words you are reading right now. However, that doesn't mean it's one of my favorite films. Rob Zombie once said "You don't invite a bunch of friends over to watch Last House On The Left" and he's right. Again, that is not to take away from the artistic merit of the film, rather just to illustrate the point that it's root act is so heinous it casts a pall over the rest of the film.
Other films have tried to copy the rape/revenge motif - often with disastrous results. Filmmakers, in an effort to elicit more of a reaction, often push the ugly parts of the message, namely the rape, and sacrifice the quality of the film in doing so. Luckily for us, Michael S. Ojeda writer/director understands that rape part of the rape/revenge scenario is the catalyst for the rest of the film, not the centerpiece.
Zoe (Amanda Adrienne) is a deaf, mute. blonde who in most reasonable circles could be mistaken for a high fashion model. She inherits her father classic sports car and uses it as the impenitence to move cross country and in with her boyfriend Dane (Marc Anthony Samuel) - much to her mothers chagrin. He trip is interrupted when she comes upon a young Apache Indian being brutalized by your typical group of racist, red neck, thugs. When she attempts to intervene, the group turns their attention towards the pretty blonde. the abduct her, tie her down with barbed wire and systematically rape her. She escapes after hearing their plans to kill her, but her freedom is short lived as she is hunted down and killed by the group. When her body is recovered by an Apache shaman it becomes inhabited by a mythical Apache war chief. Instilled with new purpose, Zoe embarks on a mission to get her revenge.
I mentioned it above but Avenged already rises above most rape/revenge films in the fact that it actually shows restraint when dealing with the former. However, it's when dealing with the latter that the film really makes it's mark. Whereas many films that find themselves classified in the rape/revenge sub-genre think that the revenge part of the film has to be at least as if not more over the top and stomach turning as the rape part, again writer/director Michael S. Ojeda pulls the string back a little bit and lets the revenge happen within the stories constructs, rather than forcing the gore and the carnage to over the top levels. Now that being said, there should be enough disembowelment and blood spurts to satiate most horror fans.
The thing about Avenged though, is that at it's heart it's really a love story. It's the simple story of a boy trying to find a lost girl and that lost girl trying to get back to that boy. The rest of the film is just window dressing for that age old trope, and that trope can fall flat on its face unless the actors playing the roles hold up their end of the bargain. Adrienne and Samuel are both able to handle the films emotional heavy lifting. Despite everything that happens over the first ninety minutes, we still feel something for these characters at the end of the film.
Now, that doesn't mean that Avenged is the perfect film, lie any film it has warts, some larger than others. From a writing/plot standpoint, we are shown that Zoe's mother is very concerned about her trip, yet outside of that opening cautionary scene, she is nowhere to be found. I get that the relationship between Zoe and Dane is the main driving force of the film but if you are going to ask the viewer to spend time becoming invested in Zoe's mothers trepidations, then there should be some sort of arc for her story as well. The other thing about the film that may rub folks the wrong way is the use for the central casting, generic, stereotype 101 redneck. For a film that creates such wonderfully textured characters as Zoe and Dane, it really does the films baddie a disservice....all except for one. West is just as complicated and the other bad guys are simplistic. He dispenses old school wisdom in a stoic voice to the group like a long haired Ron Swanson. His words could cause you to question his devotion to the cause, yet his actions are that of a card carrying Apache murderer. It's a weird, uncomfortable dynamic for the character, one that I'm not sure best serves the film.
In a weird way, Avenged is the type of rape/revenge film that should be made. One that focuses on the telling a story as a whole and not just showing a string of increasingly shocking events, and that restraint is to be applauded. Yet, the film falls just short of getting to the heart of what it really wants to say. Yes, there is retribution, there is love, but there is also something missing, something that just misses the mark a bit. Still, Avenged is a very good film that is elevated by a couple a very good, emotional performances and some solid writing and directing.
*** and 3/4 stars out of *****
You may find Avenged listed as the much less sensitive Savaged in certain places. For once I'm favor of a name change! Also you can catch Avenged at the Arena Hollywood Cinema on March 6th at 10:15pm and on March the 8th at 6:30pm. The screening will be accompanied by a Q + A session with the films stars and Director Michael S. Ojeda! How cool is that? If you are in the area, definitely check it out, support a good film and support indie horror.
That's it for me...as always, thanks for reading and "enjoy every sandwich."