Friday, December 25, 2015

Review: BOUND TO VENGEANCE (2015) [Paul's Take]

Halfway through “Bound to Vengeance,” one recently escaped kidnap victim says to the other regarding just the latest in a long line of plans that don’t involve them casually trotting down to the police station, their homes, or even to a Denny’s:  “This is a bad idea.”  And you know what?  She’s right!  They have escaped their hellish sex slavery prisons, they’ve got a running van, they are in the center of a city that might be Los Angeles, and there is literally no traffic between them and anywhere they want to go.  The other victim, our protagonist, shakes her head and responds grimly:  “This whole night has been a bad fucking idea.”

Now this is really perverse and original.  Think of some of those “bad ideas” that happen in horror films all the time.  For instance, when Ripley in “Alien” returns to the ship to save her cat, or almost any time when, in the midst of some murderous kill-a-thon, a character hears a noise and then goes to “check it out.”  I’m generally okay with even this thin veneer of character motivation because, even if I wouldn’t make those horrifically risky decisions, I can accept that this or that soon-to-be-impaled/hatcheted/strangled character would.  That is, if Ripley wants to save the cat and believes that it is a good idea, then go girl!  I’ll root for you from back here behind some popcorn and with a purring cat on my lap (I love you Tiggies!  You know that this whole point is rhetorical, right?).  But if Ripley had been earnestly like, “this is a bad idea” and then follows that up with a shrug and a “this whole night has been a bad fucking idea, anyway, so let’s do it!” I might start rooting for the alien.  I don’t need my protagonists to be smart and self-preserving, but they should themselves believe in their own motivations. 

So when our protagonist, Eve (played here by a plucky Tina Ivlev), goes ahead with an incredibly dangerous rescue attempt before notifying the authorities and after acknowledging the stupidity of it all (keep in mind, there is no ticking clock here—the ship is not going to self-destruct in T-minus-anything), I realized that “Bound to Vengeance” is charting new territory. 

“Bound to Vengeance” is about a woman who escapes from her captivity and forces her captor to take her on a tour of the sex slavery cells, mainly in the well-populated suburban neighborhoods of southern California, so she can rescue other women from similar predicaments.  The film begins with Eve beating the living hell out of her captor with a brick, locking him up in the chains, and then escaping the house.  Yet, in the first of many dramatic misfires in the film, she discovers to her horror that she is in the middle of the desert.  There’s nowhere for her to run!  As the camera pans across the desolate California desert we see a cactus, shrubs, an unoccupied van, more cactuses, an empty road, the mountains, sand and Eve’s utter horror as whirls in place wondering what she's going to do now that she is so completely screwed. 

The feeling here is like watching the bogeyman creep up behind his prey.  You want to shout: “Look behind you!  He’s right there!”  Yet in this case, it’s more like trying to get my cat to acknowledge a new scratching pole that sits idly by while she tears at the upholstery: “Look in front of you Eve!  There’s a VAN! Right. In. Front. Of. You.”

When Eve does go back inside the house to confront the remarkably still living bad guy, yclept Phil, I was still on board.  There’s legitimate tension: she has to get the keys to the van from him, but how will she do this without endangering herself?  Yet, when we get to crunch time, Eve doesn’t care so much about getting the keys as she does about some polaroids of other girls that she assumes are also in captivity.  So she threatens Phil with a pistol, asking him where the girls are, and he sneers something to the effect of: “What are you going to do, put a leash on me while I take you from girl to girl so you can release them?”  

This has the opposite of intended effect, as Eve takes his joke as her major character motivation, fashioning a leash with some phone cord and the sturdiest shower curtain rod ever made (seemingly intended for shower curtains made of bowling balls), and then making him in fact drive her around town so she can rescue these hypothetical other girls.  

When Eve finally asks Phil for the van keys, it’s an afterthought, and Phil just flips them to her (!) without considering that they are/were his major bargaining chip.  Bad ideas abound in a whole night of them.
Someday we'll look back on this moment and say, "so this is how my penis sees us"
Even decent acting from Tina Ivlev and a wasted Richard Tyson as Phil can’t get past the motivation issue.  Eve shows no interest in contacting the authorities throughout the film.  This is nowhere more evident than when Phil, having used a hidden cell phone to ambush Eve and turn the tables, in an act of weirdly inexplicable bravado, breaks his own cell phone while saying sarcastically “you want to call the cops now?!”  Which is bizarre since, at this moment, Phil neither had to show her the cell phone, nor, having shown it to her, break it (unless he predicted that she would once again escape from his clutches, which is pretty self-doubting for a villain).  But it is also ironic since Eve gives zero shits about phones in general.  In a scene immediately prior, she tells fellow escapee, “there’s got to be a phone around here somewhere” but then wanders back to the van instead of looking for it and, you know, using it.

So what ends up being the major question of the film, the question of Eve’s motivation, remains a weight that the film drags around until the very end.  When finally revealed, however, it doesn’t quite get the wallop that you think the filmmakers thought it would have.  It isn’t a big surprise, really, and since Ivlev has had to hide this piece of information throughout, she isn’t able to give her character any believable engagement with the psychological angle of it.  “Bound to Vengeance” sacrifices everything for a largely ineffective “twist” that might have saved the whole film if it had been revealed from the start.
“Bound to Vengeance” is also as heavy as the shower curtain for which that tank turret of a curtain rod was intended.  Phil, who might have been the one source of dark humor is a well-moistened blanket, commenting on the plight of missing black girls and telling an eye-roll inducing story about his mother’s five-year battle with cancer.  (Sidenote:  really, “Bound to Vengeance”?  You’re going to make a point about racial inequality and then kill off the one black character in the film in a brainless accident before she has a spoken line of dialogue and less than a minute after she has been introduced?)  The intrusive and ubiquitous “music” might be the rejected background soundtrack for a CSI show, lots of ominous sounds and dissonant chords that get more annoying in proportion to how exciting the scene is supposed to be. 

Yet all this seriousness gets one deeply needed break when the familiar opening arpeggios of Nazareth’s “Love Hurts” replace the background synth garbage, and for a bare second everything seems like it’s going to turn around.  This isn’t low-budget hackwork, there’s some real money here!  They can afford “Love Hurts”!  And hey, that guy playing Phil is Richard Tyson who is a real theater actor and has been in lots of goodish films like “Kindergarten Cop” and “Blackhawk Down” and “Richard III”!  And really Tina Ivlev isn’t that bad either, she reminds me of Jennifer Lawrence sometimes and Laura Dern at others, and those are great actresses.  And you know, come to think of it, the special effects have been spiffy as well—things that should hurt look like they hurt.  And this moment, this very scene, is the absolute perfect time for “Love Hurts,” it’s sort of funny given the context, and . . . and . . . and . . . wait a second.  These lyrics sound funny.  Oh, right.  They’re in Spanish.  And I am watching a low-budget picture.  And things are not going to turn around.  Which is probably for the best since, THE VAN IS RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU.

My questions for Joe: 

PH:  How hard is Richard Tyson’s head?

JD:  *Assumes Richard Tyson's creepy voice* Heh…heh…heh…you’re not killing Richard Tyson’s head when you hit it with a brick. You’re helping it! Don’t you see?! You’re involved in *WHACK* something bigger than *WHACK* avocados? *WHACK* just don’t take me ho- *WHACK* what was I saying again?

PH:  In one scene, a starving victim gets her hands on a hamburger and starts to devour it right over a bleeding body.  But does she finish the hamburger?  Would you?

JD:  If she’d choked on the hamburger, she would have been killed…by getting fed! Which would totally turn the whole “You ate your sister’s food and killed her” thing on its head. Because! She fed someone and they died, so everything is *WHACK* pointless.

PH:  Do you think it is an economic or personal reason for keeping all the sex slaves in separate houses?

JD:  Well, if they’d all been in separate houses, it would have been like a 5 hour movie. Eventually they just had to put the rest in a warehouse, and let her get them all in one shebang.

PH:  Where is the first place you would drive after escaping from torturous captivity?

JD:  Probably Denny’s. Or right into a wrought iron fence.

PH:  What’s the best thing/moment in this film?  And you can’t say “Love Hurts” or however you say that in Spanish.

JD:  I actually liked it when the creepy captive rapist would foreshadow what was going to be at the houses, and I appreciated it when he said “The last house, boy, that’s going to change everything.” I mean, you know it’s probably going to be the boyfriend, but I appreciate the consideration that goes into letting me know a major plot twist is coming that will reshape what you thought you knew about the movie. It’s like having a chapter title in a book, it’s just helpful!

That's it for Bound to Vengeance.  Next up . . . Pod!  Watch out for lurking wrought iron fences!

Feel free to ask and answer your own questions below!

And click here to read Joe's take on Bound to Vengeance.

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