If a movie advertises its cast as a who’s who of beloved metal band members it better be prepared to deliver what it is loudly being shouted from the stage. At the least it should feature material equal to the band names. The Retaliators features members of Motley Crüe, and is being heavily promoted by Five Finger Death Punch, and of course the patriarch of vermin himself Papa Roach. It is also brutal. From the first kill (that includes missing teeth and a tail pipe) to the titular retaliation, this movie is not just a gorefest it is a pure carnage carnival that manages to be bloody and brutal without being mean.
The Retaliators pits a gang of criminals led by the creepy and brutal Ram Kady (Joseph Kat) against a father played with tremendous heart by Michael Lombardo who seeks revenge for the murder of his daughter Sarah (Katy Kelly). Borrowing some themes from Taken, Lombardo’s Bishop is concerned with only one task, getting revenge on those that killed his daughter. What follows is a savage and cinematic exploration of guilt, redemption and especially, no really, like ESPECIALLY, violence. The movie asks if this is what redemption looks like, do we really want it?
The color pallete and relentless action will lead many to make comparisons to some of Guy Ritchie’s films like RocknRolla or Revolver. While Ritchie films tend to have some comedy built in The Retaliators is mostly humorless. It is quite a somber film, especially in the first half, and as a result the films relentless violence can feel a bit overwhelming. It feels closer to a hardboiled thriller in tone than a lighthearted horror action film. If one were to remove the mystery elements of Seven but turn the dial all the way up on the brutality and violence it would be this film.
Marc Menchaca plays Jed a husband whose pregnant wife was murdered by a criminal years ago who spends time kidnapping criminals and allowing others to exact their revenge. Menchaca is the most interesting character in the bunch and somehow navigates the space between being a psychopath and the devil on Bishop’s shoulder. Jed lost his entire family and as a father myself I sort of get it. I think that is the point behind the film, we are all saints until the sinners come calling. The big distinction, Jed keeps the criminals alive so he can continue to torture them. Maybe I don’t get Jed after all. It is not small time revenge that Jed is into, he has a legion of scumbags who he allows victims to torture. Afterward he keeps them as part of his menagerie of living monsters whom he tortures at will. Incidentally many of them have developed over time a lust for human flesh. Things get complicated when the rest of Kady’s gang led by his brother track down Jed and Bishop.
The Retaliators does graphic violence very well offering up a bacchanalia of blood. It is less effective when it seeks to explore something deeper then the corporeal nature of the film. If the viewer finds the movie an artistic exercise, it works. Sometimes a film doesn’t need to be anything other than an exploration of the violence we see everyday. While we do not see torture chambers full of criminal victims everyday most of us have been impacted by violence. The Retaliators is at its best when it trusts the audience to meet the movie in the bloody killing fields. It is less effective when it seeks to discuss the ethics of redemption or the morality of retaliation. The last fifteen minutes of this film are an absolute scream, filled with fantastic fight scenes full of gruesome injuries. The directors even manage to work in a bit of humor. The end of the film embraces what the movie actual is–A hyper violent action film that feels like the love child of Hostel and John Wick
Sometimes I often remark this movie wasn’t for me without truly understanding who the movie might be for. That is not the case here. This movie is definitely not for me, but I can name a number people who will really dig it. Its target audience is out there and it absolutely will be a hit for that individual audience. A Frightfest favorite this film feels right at home with some of Arrow’s other films that have highlighted violence. Hopefully they will gobble it up as part of their streaming platform. Until then, the Retaliators comes out September 14, 2022 in a number of select theatres.
Tyler has been the editor in chief of Signal Horizon since its conception. He is also the Director of Monsters 101 at Truman State University a class that pairs horror movie criticism with survival skills to help middle and high school students learn critical thinking. When he is not watching, teaching or thinking about horror he is the Director of Debate and Forensics at a high school in Kansas City, Missouri.