Ms. 45

Studio: Drafthouse Films
Directed by Abel Ferrara

Dec 13, 2013 Web Exclusive
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It’s not difficult to see why Ms. 45 was reviled and dismissed by many critics upon its release in 1981.  A mute seamstress working in a New York City dress shop is raped on her way home from work and returns home traumatized, only to interrupt a burglary and be raped again. If the first ten minutes weren’t enough to repulse most viewers, the remainder of the film sees her carry out an increasingly unhinged killing spree, murdering her way through a city which seems to consist solely of rapists and perverts. 

Abel Ferrara’s early cult classic—now being released uncut for the first time in North America—quickly became a controversial talking point among film aficionados, simultaneously praised for its unflinching portrayal of female empowerment and derided as exploitative, gratuitous nonsense. Such high-minded arguments have contributed to the film’s longevity, but lost among them is the simple fact that Ms. 45 is the gorgeous, gruesome pinnacle of 1970s revenge films: Death Wish by way of I Spit On Your Grave.  Although technically a film of the 80s, Ms. 45 is set in the same bleak, hostile Manhattan that gave birth to Ratso Rizzo and Travis Bickle. Its borderline-cartoonish portrayal of idle rapists, lecherous passers-by and grotesque, unhelpful neighbors creates a nightmare world where mass murder seems the only sensible option. 

The film’s not-so-secret weapon is its lead actress, the late Zoe Tamerlis Lund, as the not-so-subtly named Thana. Only eighteen at the time the film was made, Lund gives a heartbreaking performance which requires her to play an innocent shut-in, a broken victim, a sultry seductress, and a vicious maniac without the aid of a single line of dialogue. The character’s fate is sealed in the film’s first moments, but Lund ensures you’re cheering her on in the final moments, even as you know her actions have stretched from understandable to insane.  

Author rating: 8/10

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