Movie: The Retaliators
Director(s): Samuel Gonzalez Jr., Michael Lombardi, Bridget Smith
Studio: Better Noise Films, CineLife Entertainment
Release Date: September 14, 2022
Starring: Michael Lombardi, Marc Menchaca, and Joseph Gatt. With appearances by Tommy Lee (Motley Crue), Ivan Moody (Five Finger Death Punch), Jacoby Shaddix (Papa Roach), Spencer Charnas (Ice Nine Kills)
It’s so tempting to just take a huge dump on this movie and leave it at that, but the people who made the thing seem serious enough about it for me to take my time and really think about exactly what deserves to be shit on. I’m not sure where to begin, so let’s just take another look at the movie’s poster, shall we?
Warning: Major sarcasm and minor spoilers ahead!
If you’re anything like me, that poster will remind you of Evil Dead, Machette, and Wrong Turn (among others), which should tell you something about what passes as originality these days. If you look closely, you’ll see Ivan Moody’s silhouette on the right and Jacoby Shaddix’s on the left. A strange sort of spooky, to say the least, even if you’re really into Five Finger Death Punch and Papa Roach. The title font is reminiscent of The Warriors, with a not-so-subtle number “1” in place of the letter “I,” heaven help us. “Heaven, you say?” Why, yes. Yes, I did say heaven.
Enter our main protagonist, the engimatically named minister, John Bishop (Michael Lombardi). Bishop is a widower with two young daughters, and from the very start, he is confronted with potentially violent situations. This leads his oldest daughter Sarah (Katie Kelly) to think he “can’t protect his daughters,” which Bishop feels obliged to preach about… at some pop-up church on an apparently random evening. Bishop’s sermon recounts his determinable piousness in the face of adversity (some super mean guy stole his Christmas tree. Yes, really), as he recites a portion of Luke 18:3, otherwise known as the “parable of the persistent widow.” Bet ya can’t guess what happens next. Here, just watch the trailer.
You really don’t need to know anything else in terms of the plot, or how things unfold and ultimately play out. This isn’t intelligent social commentary or even a very good horror movie, but in its defense, I’m not convinced it tries very hard to be either. More than anything, it’s a modern attempt to recreate the heavy metal/horror flick combo that Wes Craven had so much success with in the 1980s and 90s with Shocker, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, and the Scream films (coupled with the almost comical gore of a young Sam Raimi, as indicated by the aforementioned one-sheet).
As was the case with all of these films, the music featured in The Retaliators is only speculatively terrible. If bands like Asking Alexandria, Ice Nine Kills, Bad Wolves, and Nothing More are your kind of metal you’ll enjoy the hell out of the soundtrack. The film’s original score, I should mention, was done by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of Stranger Things fame and is one of the few saving graces present throughout the almost exactly 90-minute run-time.
Despite the character development alternating between asinine and entirely absent, the acting is actually quite good at times. Specifically by the tortured cop turned crazed whatever-the-fuck named Jed (Marc Menchaca), and the super crazy stereotypical bald maniac named Ram (Joseph Gatt). Robert Knepper (Prison Break, iZombie) is a fantastic bad guy, as always, and Five Finger Death Punch axe-slinger Zoltan Bathory is surprisingly effective as a motorcycle thug named Fang. On the other hand, a good deal of The Retaliators comes off like a high-budget music video.
Jacoby Shaddix proves to be a decent actor, but… he’s Jacoby Shaddix. The only way around that would have been to distance the film from Papa Roach, which they very much did not do here. Then there’s Ivan Moody, whose best scene is with a phone booth, and, in a shocking twist of casting perfection, Tommy Lee as an ass-slapping strip club DJ.
I’m not sure what the point of all this is, other than to poke fun at tragedy and justify violence. The film directly (and many would say improperly) uses a biblical story about persistence and spiritual adaptability as an excuse to chop motherfuckers in half. What’s more, it perpetuates the narrative that a man is incapable of expressing pain in any other way, and leaves us with the notion that our daughter’s will ultimately be just fine with that as long as we say we’re sorry first. Come on, man! What sort of tone deaf bullshit is that?
Now, Tommy Lee would just laugh all of this off and call me a pussy. I know this, but Tommy Lee can kiss my fuckin ass. We’re not in the 80s anymore, as those of us who grew up through them are so painfully aware. If the makers of The Retaliators really wanted to make a point, they’d have been much better off with a female lead struggling over what to do about the brutal death of her son. Something I’m surprised they didn’t learn from their all-too-obvious adoration of Wes Craven, or even a more contemporary example like Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead (2013), Don’t Breathe).
This movie is disturbing for all the wrong reasons, and I do not recommend anyone spend any sort of time or money on the thing. Of course it’s possible that I missed the point. I often do. I am a man, after all.