Breanna Lucci says that The Retaliators poses the ultimate moral dilemma while captivating us with heart-wrenching performances.
From Taken (2008) and Room (2015) to The Monster (2016), films have long explored the lengths parents will go to save their children. Whether rolling your child into a rug or traveling the world to rescue their daughter from sex traffickers, a parental survival story never fails to capture our attention. Directors Samuel Gonzalez Jr., Michael Lombardi, and Bridget Smith pose the question, what happens when it’s too late to save a child? Written by Darren Geare and Jeff Allen Geare, The Retaliators is a gore-filled thriller that tackles numerous storylines in its dark and gruesome portrayal of how far a father should go to avenge his daughter’s murder.
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?
While Bishop’s struggles shine as the story’s catalyst, many different, intense stories swirl in the background—one centers on Jed (Marc Menchaca), a disturbed detective with an even more troubling secret, and the other focuses on the drug-smuggling ring responsible for Ram’s misconduct. The variety of subplots and wide array of characters make the film, at times, hard to follow. One second, Ram’s crew enjoys strip clubs, heavy drugs, and power. The next, Lombardi floats through Jed’s past, and we uncover the tragic murder of his pregnant wife. Each story is powerful but feels rushed and confusing when paired together.
It is Bishop’s moral dilemma that elevates The Retaliators. As a pastor, he’s undoubtedly a man of God. We’re introduced to him and his family shopping for Christmas trees—when Bishop leaves Sarah in the checkout line with their chosen tree, he returns to find her fighting with a man who’s stolen it. In a metaphoric moment, Bishop decides to let the man have the tree and wishes him a polite “Merry Christmas,” which, as he later tells his congregation, is because he knows that when we leave sins unpunished on Earth, God handles them afterward. His faith becomes a point of contention because Bishop must confront this belief head-on when faced with Sarah’s murder.
The film begs us to question, is there a higher power? If there is, are they truly looking out for us? While connecting with Bishop, Jed says that no God would take his wife and unborn daughter on the same day. Jed’s comment is one of the many moments where God’s intentions–and existence—come into question. When opportunities for revenge become increasingly available, Bishop labors through his fight between what he “should” and “shouldn’t” do—like Bishop, we’re forced to confront hard questions: Hurting people is wrong, but what if you’re hurting bad people? Does hurting bad people justify your actions and make you good? Or are you immoral because you’ve hurt people? These questions, left wholly unanswered, linger long after the film ends, leaving a distinctly bitter feeling of uncertainty.
To further this maddening back-and-forth, the music by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, the composers for Stranger Things, successfully propels the film’s contradicting concepts through the fun, rebellious eyes of the 80s. With heavy rock songs like “Wolf Totem” and “The Ending,” The Retaliators thrusts us into a harsh, disorderly world. These songs play over a violent drug raid by Ram’s crew and other bloody escapades while expertly immersing us in Bishop’s plight.
While Bishop finds his stride, inspirational songs like “For the Glory” play. Although similar instrumentally, the differing messages reflect Bishop’s fight between morality and revenge. It’s the age-old good versus evil debate—except, like the lyrics within these songs, nothing is as simple as it seems.
The Retaliators is a soul-searching, heart-wrenching narrative. While the plethora of characters and plot points sometimes creates bewilderment instead of suspense, Bishop’s journey shines through. Bishop’s pilgrimage proves that when faced with great tragedy, sometimes the “right thing” isn’t what we learned in Sunday school.
The Retaliators premieres worldwide theatrically tonight before its digital on-demand release in October from CineLife Entertainment and Trafalgar. Find tickets at retaliatorsmove.com.