J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Julia: Revenge Gets Murky

What Julia Shames really needs is some firearms training from an old school vigilante like Death Wish’s Paul Kersey. Instead, the rape victim is recruited by a vaguely satanic, crypto-feminist cult. Sexual politics take a sinister turn, possibly even trumping revenge in Matthew A. Brown’s Julia (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in select cities.

This Julia should absolutely not be mistaken for the 1977 Lillian Hellman film, although she might approve of the later film’s sentiments. Mousy Shames (how’s that for a heavy-handed name?) is brutally raped and left for dead by a former co-worker and his three thuggish friends. However, she survives because the reluctant one feels a last minute pang of conscience. Walking through Brooklyn in a daze, she is quickly identified and recruited by Dr. Sgundud’s cult-like organization.

He promises empowerment and revenge against the testosterone-driven rape culture, but his rules are rigid. First and foremost, she more forgo personal vengeance, in favor of waging a broader campaign against aggressive and entitled men. During her probationary period, the mysterious Sadie will be her coach and minder. Soon, they are also lovers. However, Shames is about to break Sgundud’s cardinal rule, because what’s the point of revenge, if it isn’t personal?

By genre standards Julia is unusually stylish, particularly Frank Hall’s electro-minimalist score. Unfortunately, the film is an absolute traffic jam of half-baked revelations and awkwardly didactic plot points. Rather than thrilling or scaring, the most applicable adjective-verb is “frustrating.”

Right from the start, Brown makes it clear there will be no vicarious satisfaction allowed from Shames’ vengeance-taking, which is problematic for a revenge thriller (Reversal, now known as Bound to Vengeance is an example of how this is done right). Instead, there are horror movie trappings mixed with a hallucinatory psychological drama, overlaid by a lesbian co-dependent morality tale. Even more distracting, Brown opens a huge can of worms with Sgundud’s big reveal, without ever really dealing with the implications.

Frankly, this film often feels like it is at war with itself, which is a shame, because Human Centipede’s Ashley C. Williams really is quite good as Shames. Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson’s eerie urban cinematography is also quite effectively disorienting, like prime David Lynch or Fabrice du Welz’s Alleluia. Yet, Brown keeps pulling the audience out of the action, making a point of showing us exactly what Julia is not. Not really recommended despite its technical merit, Julia opens tomorrow (10/23) at the AMC Burbank Town Center 8.

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