E.L. King chats with the Geare Brothers about their gore-fueled revenge horror film The Retaliators, co-directed by and starring Michael Lombardi.
Through the lens of The Geare Brothers’ passion for genre cinema, they wrote The Retaliators, a twisted revenge fantasy written with care and love and inspired by personal family tragedy. Films have long explored the lengths that parents will go to save their children from harm. Directors Samuel Gonzalez Jr., Michael Lombardi, and Bridget Smith pose the question, what happens when it’s too late to save a child?
When Bishop (Lombardi), a celebrated pastor, hesitantly allows his teenage daughter Sarah (Katie Kelly) to attend a Christmas Eve party, he can’t know how quickly things will change. While pumping gas before the party, Sarah runs into violent drug smuggler Ram (Joseph Gatt), and by the time she realizes the imminent danger, it’s too late. Sarah’s murder rings deafeningly loud through Bishop’s ears, and he finds himself at a devastating crossroads: should he continue taking the high road? Or is real revenge something God cannot give? Is it, instead, something he needs to claim himself?
A high-octane original soundtrack and cameos from some of the biggest names in rock music set the tone as this horror-thriller reveals a game of revenge played using a new set of rules. Five Finger Death Punch, Tommy Lee, Papa Roach, The Hu, Ice Nine Kills, Escape The Fate and more appear in the film and on The Retaliators Original Soundtrack, released with the movie from Better Noise Music.
The Geare Brothers discuss their love of horror, action thrillers, the very personal story that inspired the screenplay, and what it was like having Stranger Things composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein scoring the film. The Retaliators is now streaming on digital on-demand on Amazon Prime Video and other major digital retailers along with its Original Soundtrack. The film will be released on Blu-Ray on February 21, 2023. It's available for pre-order on Amazon.
E.L. King: Would you consider yourselves genre film lovers? Horror, in particular. If so, how did you first discover your interest in the genre?
Darren Geare: Yes. We are obsessed with many genres and sub-genres. Splatter horror. Slashers. John Carpenter is everything. Wes Craven. Tobe Hooper. Exploitation of all kinds. Action of all kinds. Charles Bronson to Schwarzenegger. 70s and 80s grimy crime thrillers — films of J. Lee Thompson, Don Siegel, William Friedkin, and early Michael Mann like Thief and Manhunter …
Jeff Geare: For much of my life I didn’t quite realize this. My introduction to it was probably watching Child’s Play as a kid, and it scared the shit out of me. But in terms of genre horror films that made me want to make movies, that was much later in life. I was in my late 20s, and I don’t remember how it came up, but Darren asked if I’d ever seen The Evil Dead. He about had a heart attack when he found out that I hadn’t. And so for health reasons, if nothing else, he sat me down to watch it, right then and there. That was a real life-changing moment for me. The movie was obviously made with a super low budget. But it was so clever, fun, and entertaining — and scary! That was the moment I fell in love with genre films (and knew it), and it was also the moment I realized I wanted to make movies.
E.L. King: The Retaliators is a harrowing revenge horror story influenced by personal family tragedy. Tell us your inspiration for the story and Jed's underground lair for revenge.
The Geare Brothers: In 2004, our sister, Jody Geare, was brutally and nearly fatally attacked by a serial rapist. It took 14 years for the perpetrator to be caught and sentenced to prison. During the long ordeal of the trial, we came up with an idea that explored the concept of an underground revenge-fantasy service for family members of crime victims. Our sister gave us the blessing to use her story as an inspiration. She asked, “If it’s ever made into a film, please use my name. I want my story to be an inspiration to victims. For people suffering from traumatic PTSD. I want people to see that you can survive and get through it.” Her name is Jody Geare.
Today, she is healthy and thriving as one of the few female Fire Captains in the United States. It has been quite a triumphant experience since releasing the film. We have been on stage multiple times with Jody. She’s told her story to live audiences, we’ve been able to appear on many podcasts and do many interviews and share her name and her story.
E.L. King: John Bishop references Die Hard and action heroes before he is met with tragedy in the film. His final revenge feels particularly influenced by characters like John McClane, right down to his own Roy Rogers one-liner. What genre influences did you draw inspiration for the script?
The Geare Brothers: We definitely draw from several genre influences. John Bishop’s character arc is certainly a love letter to 80’s action heroes. Die Hard, Rambo, and The Terminator are all referenced in the script. At times, we lean into our love of action and horror splatter as a nod to Cannon Film-era B-movie ridiculousness. We lean a little into our love of grimy thrillers of the 70s from films of directors like Don Siegel (Dirty Harry) and Michael Winner (The Mechanic). The Evil Dead, both for its entertainingly grotesque (and practical) visuals, and its focus on one man’s bloody and cathartic battle through the woods.
E.L. King: Biblically speaking, a Bishop is a senior member of the Christian clergy having spiritual and administrative authority. John was, in the bible, a leading member of Jesus' Twelve Apostles, who served an important role as His witness, a leader of the Church, and a revelator. Given the obvious biblical references in the film, why explore revenge through John's conflict between morality, faith, and good versus evil?
The Geare Brothers: We really just wanted to see someone struggle with the choice of whether to take revenge from the viewpoint of someone who’s taken a vow to avoid violence at all costs — a friendly, pacifist pastor. Someone who doesn’t just preach, but really believes in non-violence and the power of God to deliver ultimate justice. Putting that person to the test — through hell — is really the life force of the script. We created John Bishop to be a throwback to the genuine-article, earnest “good guy” character, like someone you’d see in a Frank Capra film. What if Jimmy Stewart was put in this situation? We thought it would make for an interesting drama to put the most unlikely candidate for taking this sort of vengeful path to be put to the test.
E.L. King: Jed and Bishop seem to mirror each other, except the mirror is distorted, and two different images are reflected. Walk us through your character creation process and what inspired these two characters.
The Geare Brothers: It’s cool that you picked that up. Believe it or not, not many put that together right away and that is exactly what we sought to do. We wanted a hero and an anti-hero to be mirrors of each other. Both are good and decent people. Extreme trauma takes both of them to a moral line and they each make different choices at that crossroads.
After spending so much time crafting Bishop, we then had fun diving into the other end by creating Jed. What if we started with someone as virtuous as Bishop … but he went left instead of right. It was important for us to not telegraph judgment on Jed. We wanted to really present a case for Jed’s path. Our preference was not to condescend to the audience by saying, “This is the obvious right thing to do.” We wanted to show both sides and let the audience argue out the consequences and moral implications in their own mind. We fantasized about the audience arguing about it after the film ends.
E.L. King: In addition to working with Better Noise Music, we understand that Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, the Emmy-winning composers of Stranger Things, joined the project to score the film after seeing an early cut and loving it. A score is pivotal in bringing a film's emotional intensity and impact to life for audiences. Tell us how you feel The Retaliators' music elevates the story you wanted to tell.
Darren Geare: At one point, Michael Lombardi asked me, “Who would be your dream composer for the film? I said that since a time machine doesn’t exist where we could kidnap early 80s Tangerine Dream or John Carpenter to score, my dream would be Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein from Stranger Things. I’m a huge fan of classic synth scores. Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, John Carpenter, Goblin. I’ve been collecting them for years. We actually write to those scores. I think Kyle and Michael are really the only modern composers that legitimately capture the warm, analog-soaked spirit of the synth-score era. When they responded to the film and signed on, I was speechless. Then to hear what they brought to the film was just incredible. They don’t lean too hard into the 80s. The sound they captured has its own flavor that suits the film. It’s powerful but also subtle. It’s modern but the wink to the 70s and 80s synth era shows up at just the right times.
E.L. King: We know from our interview with Michael Lombardi that he and Darren have a strong relationship and that he was your first choice to play John Bishop. How did your friendship with Michael and his personal connection to the material help bring The Retaliators to audiences?
Darren Geare: My connection to Michael was a huge key to getting the film made and probably the most significant factor in the material staying protected and getting carried through to the end. When Michael and I worked with each other and hung out in the past, we were struck then by how immediately we clicked creatively. When Jeff and I collaborated with any aspect of The Retaliators with Michael, the chemistry was off the charts. It made bringing the film to life a total joy. There were many, many challenges that presented themselves in getting the film made … but the creative chemistry with Michael was always fun and exhilarating.
E.L. King: How involved were you in the filmmaking process? Did everything play out as you imagined when writing the script?
The Geare Brothers: We were very hands-on. It was an incredible experience. We spent time on the set. We spoke with the actors. We hung out with the crew. We were involved in post-production. We were in constant communication with Michael and had very frequent consultations.
The logistical challenges that the early days of covid brought, forced us to have to re-think and re-structure many scenes. The cast members would drop out. We had to change directors. We had to navigate around getting shut down multiple times. Jeff and I had the privilege of writing all of the revisions and scenes for the reshoots. Everything played out as we imagined and then some. Being as involved as we were, we were lucky enough to help nurture elements all the way through.
E.L. King: What's next for the Geare Brothers - do you have any upcoming projects you can share with us?
The Geare Brothers: We have been writing nonstop. The Retaliators has been so much work for the last few years but we’ve used every free moment to write, write, write. We have now piled up a few scripts that we are incredibly proud of. Right now we are writing a new one and developing it for Michael to star in and direct. We are beyond stoked about it and are going to be meeting about financing very soon!