2011 just might be the Year of the Grindhouse. Five years after the Tarantino/Rodriguez double-feature, it continues to be the gift that keeps on giving – if for no other reason than the movie going public’s increased understanding of, and appreciation for, the milieu. Earlier this year, we had Jason Eisener’s Hobo with a Shotgun (which actually began as one of the fake trailers in Grindhouse), a blood-soaked ode to early 80’s violence that would make Chuck Bronson’s character in Death Wish want to hide under a bed. More recently, Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block reminded us that any one Critter[s] could beat the holy hell out of an entire battalion of Gremlins. And now, with The Victim, actor Michael Biehn – one of the all time great go-to names in action films – steps into the director’s chair (and behind the writer’s desk) to offer an action-thriller in the tradition of Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, but on a Roger Corman budget (and shooting schedule).
At the story level, it’s a very basic “girl with a questionable moral compass makes bad decisions and has to escape from murderous psychopaths” story with a couple of nice twists. After her friend (Danielle Harris) is murdered in the woods by a police officer who’s into rough sex (Ryan Honey), a stripper (Jennifer Blanc) flees the cop and his partner, a narcotics agent/blow dealer (Denny Kirkwood), who now need to dispose of the only witness. She takes refuge in the cabin of an unlikely protector: a reclusive, downright misanthropic, “mountain man” (Biehn), who reluctantly agrees to help her. Its brilliance is in its simplicity and economy – in other words, if I said any more about the plot, and I’d be venturing into “Spoiler Alert” territory. And that’s exactly how a proper grindhouse movie should be.
I’m not sure whether an overriding message was part of the intent – after all, at its roots, it’s just a fun, exploitation flick – but a lot of the action (and humor) stems from the danger that comes from making assumptions about people, especially under intense conditions. Throughout the course of the film, very little is what it first appears to be, and while the action is over-the-top; Biehn drives home this theme, for the most part, very subtly. A lesser writer/director would have clobbered the audience over their heads with more “Get it? Get it?” moments and lines. Michael Biehn, on the other hand, prefers the old fashioned way, and does the clobbering with blunt objects – repeatedly, and quite creatively.
Stylistically speaking, like ATB and Hobo…, The Victim departs from traditional grindhouse movies in that, simply put, it looks a lot cleaner. In Grindhouse, special techniques were employed to add a layer of digital “noise” in order to make it look as if Planet Terror and Death Proof were films that had been left out of the canisters, on the floor of the projector room in a sleazy movie house for a decade or so – a look some might say is an essential trope of the genre. For me, it’s a toss-up. There is a nostalgia factor to contemporary exploitation films, and when I see them in a nice, clean theater with a good sound system, and on a screen that hasn’t been repeatedly doused with the sodas of dissatisfied customers, I can’t help but feel like a little something is missing. Then I remember that, back in the day, other things might be missing, like: the soundtrack, frames of film, and sometimes, entire scenes…
However, quality live exhibition most likely won’t be a “problem.” The current distribution model – as explained to the audience at the Q&A for last Saturday’s screening during the ITV Film Fest – is mainly to get it onto screens in college towns, and begin building a cult audience ASAP. On one hand, it’s understandable. It’s neither a mainstream, nor art-house, film and though it is getting better, most movie houses attempt to appeal to one of those broad audiences. Regardless, for those who enjoy exploitation movies of the 70’s and early 80’s, The Victim is absolutely worth seeking out in theaters – even if it bears the risk of enduring a room of drunken co-eds. However, while I’m not making an absolute prediction, something tells me (perhaps my own sense of hope) that it will come to the New Bev. What if I said “pretty please”?
Published on Aug 12, 2011