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Sundance Review: Rape Revenge Horror ‘Reversal’

Sundance Review: Rape Revenge Horror 'Reversal'

There’s some misguided notion floating around out there that rape revenge flicks are in some way feminist. That’s not to say that one can’t be feminist, but it must tread the most delicate of lines and be incredibly smart to pull that off. “Reversal” is not that film. It tries very hard to present its protagonist as a badass victim-turned-heroine, but it is not in the least bit cool or fun or awesome. It’s just further victimization and victim-blaming. And the rub is that the movie isn’t even scary or entertaining enough to justify being a horror movie. It’s just a really violent film about the horrors of sex-trafficking, and there are plenty of news articles I can read to be horrified by that particular topic.

Eve (Really? Going that obvious with the metaphors, huh?), played by the actually rather good Tina Ivlev, is first seen frolicking on the beach of Santa Monica through the lens of her boyfriend Ronnie’s camera. Suddenly, she’s using a brick to bash in the head of a gross strange man who has chained her up in a dirty desert basement for god knows how long. The man is still alive, and after she showers and changes, and finds a stack of polaroids of other girls, loops him to a noose and drags him to his van. They are going to go get those girls.

That’s pretty much the entire trajectory of the film. Eve drives around, finding girls held captive for various horrid sexual fantasies. All the while she experiences flashbacks: on the beach with her boyfriend, her captivity with another girl, quick flashes and voices from what we can assume were her rapes. All the while, her captive is alternately cajoling and deceiving her, and dumb Eve believes him every damn time. The whole “girl hero” notion is completely dashed because their trip from house to house just seems like an excuse to yet again to revel in the visuals of women in horrible victimized situations.

My gender absolutely colors how I saw the film, but make no mistake, gender is not a benchmark for this film’s lack of quality: I was surrounded by men in the screening room who groaned at terrible lines, and walked out in a steady stream. This movie is horrible to women, but it’s horrible to men too. It just reproduces the patriarchal systems that oppress both men and women by rendering women as only victims and sex objects, and men as only sex-obsessed criminals.

The other major, MAJOR problem that any horror fan will take umbrage with is the fact that there are no scares at all. The film is genuinely disturbing, but not fun-scary in any way. Every move is telegraphed from miles away, and nothing truly shocks. “Reversal” is only terrifying because this kind of sex-trafficking actually does happen in real life. It’s scary because it’s real, but it’s definitely no issue movie, trying to expose the realities of this world. It’s just a very bad, unfun, not scary movie masquerading itself as badass chick horror. NOPE.

I do have one nice thing to say: it’s shot and edited in a very interesting way, playing with linearity, skittering between reality, Eve’s memory and perception, slipping from found footage to regular and back again (although there is an odd moment where she yanks a phone and the camera goes with it — cool effect, but, um WHY?). The visual direction by José Manuel Cravioto is creative, but it’s in service a movie that’s misguided in every other way possible. [D]

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