The Retaliators is a bloody and violent revenge thriller with a bit of a difference. Co-directed by Samuel Gonzalez Jr. (Railway Spine) and Bridget Smith (Sno Babies), with a story written by Darren Geare and Jeff Allen Geare, this film combines horror and rock music into a gory and occasionally comedic whole, and also features the acting debut of Papa Roach frontman Jacoby Shaddix. The movie is made up of two distinct elements, and the way these two things fit together within the context of the film is never carried out that smoothly.
Bishop (Michael Lombardi - Flesh Eating Mothers) is a mild mannered pastor whose world is torn apart after his teenage daughter Rebecca (Abbey Hafer) is murdered at the hands of Ram Kady (Joseph Gatt - Game of Thrones). Having always preached about love and forgiveness, Bishop finds himself morally challenged when he is given the opportunity for revenge by Jed (Marc Menchaca - Homeland).
The two elements that I talked about in my intro are key to the film as a whole. The way they rub up against each other leads to what at times feels like two different films entirely stitched together. In the prologue we see a typical horror movie trope of two teenage girls lost in the backroads of America when their car breaks down. While investigating the reason, the girls are attacked by what appear to be inbred hillbillies, Bishop appears coated in blood and attempts to help, until being dragged off camera. I spent about forty five minutes after seeing this wild prologue wondering how on Earth the film was ever going to end up in this unlikely scenario. It isn't immediately clear, but the prologue takes place deep into the film's third act. The first two acts shed no light at all on this. Instead the film doesn't really even feel like a horror, much more a crime drama. The character of Bishop is a bit of a wet blanket, the type of person who wouldn't say boo to a goose. This fits the friendly pastor vibe he has going very well and so he was likeable.
The mix between horror and rock music comes in the soundtrack. Whenever there is the slightest opportunity rock music starts playing, whether it be music on the radio in a car, the background music at the local strip club, a montage of Bishop's slightly cheesy sorrow (one shot has him in a graveyard, arms raised to the heavens as he silently screams for an example of the cheesy factor), there is even a rock band playing during his Sunday service! I couldn't tell the bands apart, but a look at the press releases states The Retaliators features cameos and music by Mötley Crüe's Tommy Lee, Five Finger Death Punch, Papa Roach, The Hu, Ice Nine Kills, Escape the Fate and more. The best music in the film for me came from an original score from composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein (Stranger Things). Talking of Papa Roach, I may not know much about rock music nowadays but I had heard of Jacoby Shaddix, so was interested to see what he would be like. He is relegated to a side character, one who mainly shows up as part of a flashback. He was deliciously evil and demented though, so was enjoyable to watch.
As awkwardly as the film transitions from crime thriller to mutant redneck territory, now I transition to talking about the film's third act. For spoilers sake I won't mention much of plot, other than to say there are crazed people out in force in the woods, something that the prologue had demonstrated. I wondered if Bishop would lose his pacifist ways, and if he did what it would be that forced his hand. I can't talk about that part, but what the third act does is devolve into wanton extreme violence. The special effects are strong, there are no end of blood and over the top deaths, no end of body parts are detached from their former owners, the blood is so thick at times that there was a memorable shot of Bishop with blood sloshed on his eye socket like a little bloody rock pool. Blood sprays on walls, it gets in characters mouths, it gets everywhere. Story wise The Retaliators wasn't amazing, the subplot of the biker gang looking to retrieve their missing drugs wasn't that engaging, the main story of Bishop's grief at the murder of his daughter in contrast felt rushed through, and Jed's motivations and story...actually, that part was pretty cool. Menchaca's Jed was the standout character for me, the pure psychotic performance by Gatt for his character Ram was a close second.
The film was at its best when absolute barmy mayhem is happening, the whole third act taken on its own was a whole lot of fun with some lovely special effects sold well by the competent cast, and a slight awesome feeling that Bishop had somehow improbably become Evil Dead's Ash. The lead up to this final act was vastly different in feel, the transition a little rough. The Retaliators had it's world premiere at London's Arrow Video FrightFest 2021 earlier today, 30th August 2021.