The aptly named Bishop (Michael Lombardi) is pastor to a small congregation in an out-of-the-way town in this horror/thriller hybrid. As well as his modest flock, Bishop is responsible for the well-being of his two young daughters. His decision to begrudgingly allow his teen daughter Sarah (Katie Kelly) to attend a Christmas Eve party leads to disaster. Sarah inadvertently witnesses a gangland kidnapping and ends up at the bottom of a lake. This act of random violence launches the mild-mannered preacher down a path of vengeance that will take him to hell and back.
The breakneck pace with which directors Samuel Gonzalez Jr. and Bridget Smith’s The Retaliators hops between genres is initially disorientating. The opening scene features what appears to be a zombie attack, before switching tones instantly into a revenge narrative, a story about gang warfare and a hard-boiled detective thriller. There are digressions and long flashback sequences that add to this confusion. However, the film maintains enough grindhouse energy to bridge the gaps between these different modes, and as a result it remains engaging despite its haphazard pacing.
Billed as a ‘Rock and Roll Gorefest’, The Retaliator‘s marketing leans heavily on the inclusion of the music and faces of several rock acts. Fans will be able to spot the likes of Tommy Lee, Papa Roach’s Jacoby Shaddix, members of Five Finger Death Punch, and Cory Marks. While the soundtrack has certainly been livened up by these inclusions, few of the cameos are particularly memorable. The possible exception is Jacoby Shaddix, whose depiction of a serial rapist is appropriately grimy.
In fact, occasionally these rock and roll aesthetics work against the film’s favour. For example, Bishop’s grief is illustrated by montage sequences that could be lifted from any ’90s nu metal music video but feel laughably quaint today.
Elsewhere, the performances are strong. Michael Lombardi is impressive as the leading man, and is pretty convincing in his ‘good guy pushed too far’ role. The humanity that he brings to the part helps to ground the absurdity of the blood-streaked final chapter. Marc Menchaca plays Jed, the detective who recognises a kindred spirit in the grieving Bishop and gives him the keys to his revenge. He is gruff and haunted in all the right ways. Psycho biker Ram Kady (Joseph Gatt) brings a physicality to his role that is genuinely intimidating, smashing his way through action scenes like a tank.
The film switches modes once again as it heads into the closing act, and provides a gory denouement that is sure to please bloodthirsty fans. It has the bombastic charms of the ’80s action and horror movies that it seeks to emulate, and is sure to be a crowd-pleaser at festivals. It’s a striking climax that certainly makes up for the confusing and inconsistent opening chapters.
The film’s tonal inconsistencies, jumping from quasi-philosophical voice-overs on the nature of revenge to cartoonish ultraviolence without breaking a sweat, make it a difficult beast to pin down. It doesn’t read as a deliberate stylistic choice from writers Darren and Jeff Geare so much as a desire to cram as much into their first feature-length script as possible. That said, The Retaliators certainly avoids the biggest pitfall a first time-scriptwriter can make – playing things too safe.