Friday, 15 May 2015


One of the most challenging and gruelling sub-genres of horror is the 'rape-revenge' thriller.
Including such titles as A Gun For Jennifer, American Mary, Run! Bitch, Run! and, of course, I Spit On Your Grave, it is a controversial, yet enduring class of exploitation film.
Now director Matthew A. Brown brings his own vision of this deeply personal horror.
Can it deliver its message without descending into gratuitous nastiness?
Read on…

JULIA (2014)

Dir: Matthew A. Brown

Starring: Ashley C. Williams, Tahnya Tozzi, Jack Noseworthy, Joel de la Fuente, Ryan Cooper, Brad Koed, Cary Woodworth, Darren Lipari

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but read on at your own risk.

Bookish and socially awkward Julia (Williams) is on her way to a date with wealthy, handsome but decidedly douchey Piers (Cooper). After he pressures her in to swiftly drinking an extremely expensive glass of champagne, Julia finds her vision swimming.

The next thing we see is Piers and his friends wrapping a naked, bloody Julia in plastic and throwing her into the river. 
However, Julia awakens in the water and drags herself back to her NYC apartment.
Here we see the extent of her horrifying injuries, made worse when she slumps into her shower and proceeds to slice at her own forearm, a fresh wound among scars that suggest this isn't the first time that she has self-harmed.
From there Julia goes about her life in a daze, not going to the police but instead returning to her job as a nurse at a plastic surgeon's clinic and drinking herself into a vomit-stained stupor every night at a dim local bar. All the while she is haunted by sickening flashbacks to her ordeal at the hands of Piers and his depraved friends.
It is at this bar that she hears about a pioneering treatment for victims of sexual abuse by one Dr Sgundud (Noseworthy), one reserved for the most helpless and extreme cases. Julia seeks him out, but also receives assistance from leather-clad, hard-ass Sadie (Tozzi). Together they seek to regain her empowerment, humiliating boorish men at bars using sexuality as a weapon.
There is just one strict rule from Sgundud: 'Do not make things personal.'
But when a new, stronger and toughened Julia crosses paths with one of her attackers, the weak but repentant Adam (Koed) she becomes tempted to exact the most personal of revenges. Will Julia be able to overcome the cycle of abuse? Will the men who hurt her live to regret their actions? And what are the consequences for Julia if they don't?

THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler): Wow, Julia is a dense and beautifully grim film. Looking like it could have come straight from director Nicholas Winding Refn, with a dark and brooding atmosphere, it also comes from some seriously weighty issues.

Perhaps the best place to start is with the visuals. With spluttering neon and rich deep shadows in the evening and a queasy, oversaturated greenish tinge to the laboured daytimes, cinematographer Bergstein Björgúlfsson gives the film a unique, dreamlike feel. With some beautifully framed and composed shots, Julia feels like an artist's print brought to life. Quite simply, it looks sumptuous.
One of the finest shots is the opening scene in which Williams' titular character traverses a grimy escalator, ascending from the dark New York subway into the night, all the while accomplished by the poppy, twee strains of Ske's Julietta 1. A similar shot is used later on, however, this time Williams has ditched the over-sized spectacles and fluffy cardigan and scarf for black leather, lace and blood-red lipstick — on both occasions it is stunning.
That is another area in which the movie impresses — it has an incredible soundtrack, with songs from the aforementioned Ske plus Vuvuvultures and Lark, among others. While some Hollywood horror flicks feel like the soundtrack has been used as a cynical ploy to assemble a compilation album of the hottest artists around right now, this consists of tracks that accurately reflect the mood not just of the scenes in which they are used but the movie as a whole. Should a soundtrack album be released, it is a must-buy. If not, make note of the tracks during the end credits, get on iTunes and create your own. It really is that wonderful.
But enough on how the film sounds and looks, the most important part is almost certainly the plot and the message.
Director Brown is also the writer and he has layered his picture with meaning, yet still tells a compelling story that stands up to inspection on the surface level. Events unfold at a deceptively languid pace, yet throughout the movie we are given certain jolts to ensure we never become complacent. These veer from jaw-dropping and startling violence (including some absolutely topnotch gore effects) to stunning character revelations. The film builds towards a nightmarish conclusion that seems to sneak up on the viewer, suddenly ensnaring you in its depravity.
It asks some very deep and thought provoking questions, such as whether it's worth switching enslavement to one debilitating and destructive 'master' for another, and takes a searing look at rape culture, emasculation and sexuality (both male and female) as a destructive force. Furthermore it does so through such a skewed reality that one cannot help but wonder whether the events and characters are real or merely the product of a mind already fractured to shattering point by years of abuse. 
That character of course, is Julia, and no review of this film will be complete without discussing Williams' astonishing performance. Familiar to genre fans for her work in The Human Centipede, this is almost a dual role for Williams — the awkward and lonely girl who starts the movie and the savagely independent woman she becomes before its end. The success of the movie hinges entirely on her performance and it really is an utter showstopper. It is brave, committed and entirely unflinching. She is incredible, sympathetic yet always unnerving, an unblinking and strangely alien ball of neuroses that slowly stew and distill into something harder, darker and terrifying.
The role requires a lot from her and she completely and utterly delivers on every front. She doesn't have much in the way of lines, but then she doesn't need it, conveying whole pages of dialogue with her large emotive eyes and subtle gestures.
However, while the focus of the movie is undoubtedly on Williams' role, hers is certainly not the only one worthy of praise. I was especially impressed by the striking Tozzi who exudes a tough, 'don't fuck with me' air throughout. She's awesome and has quite the arc, which she brings to life with ease.
Equally impressive was Koed as the guilt-stricken 'weak link' in his group of vile sexual predators. The desperation in his character is palpable and, if his actions prior to this hadn't been so utterly reprehensible, his self-destruction could almost be sympathetic. It's a very strong performance and I look forward to seeing more of him in the future. 
If Koed's character is complex, the same cannot be said of the sheer driven irredeemable malevolence of those played by Cooper, Lipari and the especially hateful Woodworth. These men play villains, monsters in fact, and each is spot on with their work. They're unapologetically disgusting and so they should be. Good work, gentlemen.
Finally the enigmatic Noseworthy is an interesting and some might say melodramatic character. The direction in which his character goes is almost a little too out there but Noseworthy brings Dr Sgundud to life with an otherworldly intensity, quiet and reassuring but with something simmering just beneath the surface. Is he a saviour or the worst kind of devil? I shan't spoil that here but suffice to say Noseworthy is always captivating, especially during the fever dream like climax of the picture.

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): I shall address what I imagine will be a large problem for many — Julia is a rape-revenge thriller and as such it has some horrific scenes of violent sexual assault. I know some people who are utterly cool with a masked maniac chainsawing a dozen teens into mincemeat but are exceptionally squeamish when it comes to rape scenes. If you are one of these, Julia may be too intense for you. It isn't the worst of these type of scenes I've seen (not by a long shot), and the scenes are pretty brief and not too explicit, but if you prefer your horror more fun than thought-provoking, you may want to sit this one out.
Equally, those chaps who are uncomfortable with scenes of castration or mutilation of the male member may wish to cross their legs here. You have been warned.
I mentioned that this is not a flick for fun-seekers and I think that also carries over into its pacing. This is not a rollercoaster of blood, guts and jump scares — the tension in this movie comes from character, from the dilemmas of the characters and the oppressive atmosphere. I'm not saying this is a bloodless affair, far from it in fact, but this isn't a film for those with short attention spans. However, those prepared to invest their time and concentration will be well rewarded.
On a personal note, I thought the decision to include several flashforward scenes worked against the movie. I felt that certain revelations and events later in the film could have hit so much harder if I hadn't already been shown that they were on the way. I can only imagine how much of a 'WTF?' the final scenes would have been had the cat already been let out of the bag! Perhaps this was the reason behind the decision — the somewhat bizarre direction in which the plot goes at the end is already quite jarring (and could itself be an issue of some people). Perhaps this sudden and unexpected turn would have taken the viewer out of the film without some foreshadowing. Oh well.

THE VERDICT: I mentioned the Soska sister's American Mary earlier and that really is a perfect companion piece to this movie. Both feature plastic surgery medical practitioners taking revenge for a brutal sexual attack and both have the same message at their heart — quite possibly the worst thing that the monsters among us do is to create even more monsters through their cruelty.

But Julia is its own movie, and while challenging and certainly not a feel-good film, it gains my recommendation for being a striking and incredibly adept piece of art. It is beautifully shot, it has a killer soundtrack and has a truly iconic performance at its heart. It is not an easy watch, but it is thought-provoking, working on multiple levels at once, and above all, it manages to both entertain and horrify. And after all, isn't that what a horror movie is meant to do?
If you want to find out more about this incredible film, head over to Julia's official Facebook page. Like it while you're there too, vision such as this is well-deserving of your support.

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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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