It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve seen the premise before, there’s just something about a good revenge movie. And as much fun as A-list revenge thrillers, like Taken, are for audiences, the format seems tailor-made for B-movies. From Massacre at Central High to The Toxic Avenger to Mandy, the Grindhouse format and themes around vengeance go hand in hand. Near the end of 2022, the heavy metal-infused The Retaliators saw a limited theatrical release. Despite its simple formula critics liked what they saw.
Pastor John Bishop believes in turning the other cheek even if it means he comes off as weak. However, since the death of his wife, Bishop has become increasingly weary of risks, particularly when it comes to his oldest daughter, Sarah. When Bishop finally relents and lets his daughter take the car to go to party. The decision proves to be fatal when Sarah inadvertently stumbles on a crime that leads to her brutal death. Stricken with grief, Bishop embarks on a one-way path toward vengeance with unpredictable results.
The Retaliators …
By and large, The Retaliators plays out like just about every other revenge thriller ever produced. If the formula ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Writers Darren and Jeff Allen Geare mostly stick to this formula. Specifically, the Geare’s adopt the classic trope of a liberal victim pushed to their breaking point enough to question the meaning of justice. Like Charles Bronson’s ‘Paul Kersey’ in Death Wish, Paster John Bishop is averse to aggression and violence. And it’s just one moment of permissiveness that leads to his daughter’s death. In spite of a third act twist that questions vengeance as a form of higher justice, like every other revenge thriller The Retaliators inevitably embraces the healing power of vengeance.
…The Retaliators plays out like just about every other revenge thriller ever produced.
Though it conforms to the revenge thriller blueprint, The Retaliators doesn’t completely recycle its story. In fact, the opening scene may initially confuse audiences who are familiar with the movie’s premise or have seen any of the promotional trailers. It’s a discombobulating way to kick things off and the third act eventually pays it off. In fact, it’s the third act where The Retaliators re-writes the formula and throws in a few wrenches into the mix. For the most part the initial twist isn’t a major departure. Many revenge thriller confront their protagonist – and the audience – with something the calls into question the role of vengeance. But what follows is off-the-wall stuff that makes this one worthy of cult status.
The Retaliators Mixes Metal and Mayhem in Its Third Act
Directors Samuel Gonzalez Jr. and Bridget Smith know exactly what they’re doing and work the formula for all it’s worth. The Retaliators paces it action and violence quite well, spending just enough time with its protagonist to at least drum up some sympathy. Consistent with just about any Grindhouse movie, the violence here is sadistic and shocking. But The Retaliators takes off the gloves in its third act as it dials up this violence. For the last 20 minutes or so, Gonzalez Jr. and Smith deliver non-stop carnage that seems to revel in finding inventive ways to sever limbs and get blood spurting.
Consistent with just about any Grindhouse movie, the violence here is sadistic and shocking.
Nothing’s inherently wrong with any of the performances but it’s not why anyone will be watching. As the initially risk-averse John Bishop, Michael Lombardi does exactly what needs to get done to make the movie work. Veteran character actor Marc Menchaca (Ozark, No One Gets Out Alive) stands out as the morally ambiguous Detective Jed Sawyer. And Five Finger Death Punch frontman Ivan Moody acquits himself quite well as the lead antagonist of the thriller. In fact, The Retaliators stuffs its soundtrack and cast with heavy metal and Nu metal artists. In addition to Five Finger Death Punch, Tommy Lee of Motley Crue and Jacoby Dakota Shaddix of Papa Roach all turn up in small roles.
The Retaliators Exceeds Its Formula and Budget En Route to Being Wildly Entertaining
For most of its runtime, The Retaliators plays like a familiar Grindhouse revenge thriller albeit a good one. And then Gonzalez Jr. and Smith flip the script in the third act. In fact, the directors throw a couple of curveballs at audiences that changes what you think you’ve been watching. Of course, it’s all still a pulpy Grindhouse flick. It just becomes a much wilder one than you were previously watching. Blood, guts, and body parts fly across the screen making The Retaliators one of the more fun exploitation movies in recent memory. Some of the messaging about justice is a bit dodgy but that’s a minor issue to take with B-movie.