Cinema Review: A Vigilante | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, September 23rd, 2021  

A Vigilante

Studio: Saban Films/DirecTV Cinema
Directed by Sarah Dagger-Nickson

Mar 28, 2019 Web Exclusive
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The recent resurgence of the rape/revenge film has been notable for women finally taking the reins of a subgenre that was - more than most - built on their suffering. Coraline Fargeat’s gonzo Revenge and Natalia Leite’s more grounded M.F.A. were two recent examples of female filmmakers bringing some sorely needed perspective - as well as the requisite blood and guts - to a cycle of films that’s long been considered despicable, even by the standards of exploitation films. Rape/revenge films by their definition have always trafficked in catharsis, but Sarah Dagger-Nickson’s A Vigilante trades the release of further violence for the raw misery and emotion that it takes to experience abuse and come out the other side.

Boasting a pulpy premise that belays the film’s stark execution and ultimate goals, A Vigilante begins with protagonist Sadie acting like a low-rent Frank Castle for the #MeToo era. Lacking the Punisher’s arsenal of weapons and elite military training, Sadie spends her days in dingy motel rooms teaching herself Krav Maga and living off the charity of everyday women who hire her to beat and extort their abusive husbands. Far from an unstoppable ass-kicking machine, Sadie gets by on determination and simmering rage, disguising herself via cheap wigs and Youtube make-up tutorials. Her brutal but efficient routine is interrupted when the husband she believes dead turns up with the intent of making her a victim once again.

A Vigilante makes the most of its limited resources in the way any good exploitation should, but rather than relish in grime or gore, Dagger-Nickson strips its look down to an elemental version of the standard indie aesthetic. Shot in bruised blues and bright winter sunlight, the look of the film is as lean and hard as its heroine while always feeling grounded and realistic. At less than ninety minutes, the runtime still feels slightly padded, especially in the first half where the bare bones of the plot feel less essential than the time spent in Sadie’s headspace. Anyone going in expecting artful, choreographed ass-kickings will be disappointed by the tight framing on the action scenes, but the violence itself is more a byproduct than a feature.

The intimate framing becomes more devastating than any fight scene when Dagger-Nickson turns it on her lead actress. Olivia Wilde’s filmography is a wasteland of dumb blockbusters and forgettable comedies, but her work here is nothing short of harrowing. Her early portrayal of Sadie as a silent, monk-like instrument of vengeance gives way to some grueling group therapy sequences where she and other survivors come to grips with their abuse and loss. The film never full escapes the parameters of its subgenre - revenge is in the name, after all - but Dagger-Nickson’s focus on the emotional toll of abuse and Wilde’s hollow rage are perpetual reminders that closure for its victims is hard won, at best.

Author rating: 7/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10


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