Fans of gritty grindhouse films should check out “The Retaliators,” a testosterone-fueled revenge thriller that offers a modern take on 70s and 80s splatter cinema. This indie horror gorefest raises moral and ethical questions with a complexity that’s surprising. Of course, it also features gruesome practical effects that lets the camera relish in decapitations, cannibalism, torture, and general savagery.
Bishop (Michael Lombardi) is a devoted pastor who preaches kindness and peace. He leads a hip church where his congregation can enjoy the in-house rock band along with a Biblical message every Sunday. Bishop is a single dad who dotes on his two daughters. When his eldest is suddenly and shockingly murdered, Bishop makes it his personal mission to search for answers. In the process, he steps into a dark and twisted underworld where few will ever return.
What follows is a revenge game that accelerates into heinous acts of violence, especially when Bishop meets police detective Jed (Marc Menchaca). These are two men who share a history of trauma, and both are seeking retribution for the harm that was done to their families. This is a movie where women take the backseat, passive objects who propel the story forward, but are also abused, attacked, and killed by very bad men. That’s what makes the film complicated and a little off-putting, because it is a throwback to sexist horror that present-day audiences aren’t used to seeing. This isn’t a feminist-forward story, and the movie is unapologetic about it.
The film switches gears and genres so much that it’s impossible to accurately guess where the story is headed. It’s a family drama, indie crime thriller, revenge tale, and exploitation horror rolled into one. The narrative is all over the place, but that’s a major part of the film’s appeal because it keeps things engaging and surprising.
Co-writers Darren and Jeff Allen Geare bring an unexpected touch of sophistication to the thematic structure, and their morality story is not so black and white. It’s human nature to want to punish truly despicable people who have wronged us, especially when it’s a person who has victimized someone you love and has escaped justice. But there’s also the idea of ethical righteousness echoed by the question that is the film’s opening line: “when do the sins of a good man make him bad?” As a viewer, I was torn until a big reveal near the film’s end. That’s when it was clear some of these baddies, beyond any hope of redemption, “had it coming.” Am I wrong to think that way? Yes. No. Maybe. Probably. It’s that conundrum that gives the film a bit of heft.
Samuel Gonzalez Jr., Michael Lombardi, and Bridget Smith’s co-direction is competent and savvy (which is saying a lot for a film that has far too many cooks in the kitchen), and the performances are appropriately rugged. The film features cameos onscreen and on the terrific soundtrack from rock stars like Tommy Lee, Five Finger Death Punch, Papa Roach, The Hu, Ice Nine Kills, and Escape The Fate. There’s great crossover potential for fans of horror and fans of these bands, and the two work well together.
“The Retaliators” is set during Christmastime, which I suppose gives it the potential to become a very sick and twisted holiday classic. This isn’t a film I’d ever want to experience again, but fans of hyper-violent gore will especially savor the last half hour.
By: Louisa Moore