Dir. Matthew A. Brown, 95 mins, USA
Welcome back to Film Gutter, and today we'll be delving into some pretty chilly waters. They say revenge is a dish best served cold, and rarely has it been served much colder than right here. Julia is a film I had heard of from the horror festival circuit, and a number of friends had described this one to me as a rape revenge movie with a twist. It's occurred to me a few times since that perhaps in an ideal world that wouldn't really be a recognised subgenre, but that's another debate entirely. As it goes, Julia is very much a worthwhile entry into that disturbing cannon of cinema and an interesting noir thriller in its own right.
Julia is our titular lead, a nurse at a cosmetic surgery clinic, and we begin with her going on a date with a part-time work colleague, Piers. It's not long before we take a very dark twist as her drink is drugged and a group of Piers' friends drop around to gang rape a drugged Julia, who is dosed so that she cannot move but can feel everything happening to her. That's a pretty blunt way to put it, obviously, but it's that kind of movie – it's perhaps not in as horrible a degree of detail as I Spit on Your Grave or Irreversible, but it's still distinctly unpleasant to watch. It's presented more in flashbacks than as a lingering real-time portrayal, but it still remains plenty impactful.
It's this horrific incident that sets Julia on a distinctly nightmarish journey – she overhears a couple of girls in a bar talking about a revolutionary doctor treating rape victims, and when she enquires about it she is led down a strange path by this mysterious doctor and his assistant Sadie. Rather than informing the police, or seeking any support, she embarks on this extreme new approach. The aim of the therapy is to take control, take back power, but not to make anything personal – it's not about revenge, but almost about striking out at the whole of the male gender. Sadie is her guide on this mission, showing her the kind of targets they are looking for, the 'alphas' that they see as potential attackers of the future. She sets the honeytrap and closes it with brutal efficiency.
The question for Julia the emerges throughout the movie, of course, is this: is she truly looking for redemption or simply revenge? When one of her attackers finds her again to offer a truly lame apology for his actions, her course becomes clear – despite the consequences that may come with it...
So it has to be said that this is a film that has very little positive to say about the male of the species, and for me a lot of that hits home as pretty believable. It's 90 minutes that left me a little bit ashamed of my gender, but it was pretty piercing and insightful in that respect. But the story at heart is about Julia's journey from shy wallflower to determined survivor, an extreme change for the most extreme of circumstances. The finale of the movie is genuinely fascinating, and perfectly captures her new mindset.
The two lead performances are very strong – Ashley C Williams' portrayal of Julia is as much about what she says as how she looks, a strong range of facial expressions and body language conveying a great deal. The lingering close-ups on her face do have an effect, but are perhaps a bit overdone in places. Sadie is a fine foil, a hard-nosed believer in the unusual therapy she employs, the perfect balance to the relative innocence of Julia. The movie is presented with style and panache, visually pleasing, and employs its shock value sparingly but to great effect. The biggest twist on the usual rape revenge motif is not the fact that the retribution is indirect – at least in theory – but that the movie actually has some kind of heart to it.
RATING: 9/10. A genuinely pleasant surprise here – Julia tackles a host of hackneyed tropes and brings a fresh take to them, all delivered with thought, consideration and short, effective shocks rather than overplayed horrors. Hats off to all involved – Julia is a film that will keep you hooked in throughout and keep you guessing to the very end. A brutal thriller that earns a superb 9/10 from me.
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