Early impressions may frustrate, but it is worth persevering with The Retaliators (2021). A string of jumbled and disparate elements may not seem like they can possibly pull together by the climax, but pull together they do in this flawed, choppy, but oddly satisfying horror film.
The film begins with two young women being ambushed by what appear to be mutated cannibals in a forest. It then jumps to an upbeat pastor raising his two daughters alone, a crystal meth drug deal gone wrong, a police detective haunted by his past, motorcycle gang warfare, and an apparent road rage-inspired murder. By the mid-point The Retaliators has temporarily abandoned its protagonist to focus on a supporting character in not one but two flashbacks; one awkwardly nested inside the other.
This is not a tidy film, and these jumps to and from seemingly unrelated events do more to frustrate than intrigue. Yes it does all pull together, and yes it does so in a broadly satisfying manner, but it takes a fair amount of faith on the audience’s part to stick with it before the climax arrives.
Michael Lombardi plays Bishop, the small town pastor who goes looking for answers when his daughter is murdered. It is a very broadly written role, and a little too superficial during the film’s earlier scenes, but once Bishop finds himself trapped inside increasingly desperate situations Lombardi gets a lot more with which to work. Marc Menchaca navigates his own character – a police detective named Jed – more successfully, in part because his role simply offers more elements of character.
Joseph Gatt plays the mysterious Ram with a wonderful surfeit of menace, and plenty of entertainment value. Much of the supporting cast is played by hard rock and nu-metal performers including Papa Roach’s Jacoby Shaddix, Eva Under Fire’s Amanda Lyberg, and what I assume is the entirety of Five Finger Death Punch. It is a clever strategy for marketing, and each performers acquits themselves rather well. They also figure into the film’s fairly extensive rock soundtrack, which in addition to Death Punch includes The Hu, From Ashes to New, and Escape the Fate.
Horror fans who enjoy ridiculous levels of gore will likely leave the film’s final half hour satisfied; a random wood chipper is, after all, an obvious “Chekhov’s gun” for horror cinema. Directors Bridget Smith and Samuel Gonzalez Jr have a promising visual style, certainly in terms of hiding the film’s clearly limited budget with smart shot choices and editing techniques. As with most independent contemporary horror, The Retaliators is a rather cine-literate work. Enthusiasts can spot the various references and inspirations easily enough.
The Geare brothers, who penned the film’s screenplay, have imagination and inventiveness on their side but seem to lack somewhat in technique. That the film winds up as satisfying as it does is to their credit, however the road they take to get there is needlessly complicated and oftentimes very frustrating. There is a good movie here; arguably the problem is that there are three of them at the same time. I certainly do not mind being asked to work a little for my entertainment, but the road need to be as satisfying as the destination – I do not think that is the case here.
The Retaliators has just made its premiere at Arrow Video’s Frightfest in London, and will no doubt be making its way around the world soon. For horror enthusiasts it is a promising curate’s egg worth dedicating some time to. For more general viewers I suspect it will frustrate more than entertain.