We often imagine the line between good and evil. However, we rarely acknowledge how easy it might be to cross that threshold. Whether someone looks to steal our power out of our hands or harm someone we love, we all can create true violence. After making some noise on the independent circuit, horror/thriller The Retaliators looks to spin up a classic revenge tale. However, the presence of genuine rock stars throughout the film makes this effort somewhat unique. Directed by and starring Michael Lombardi (Rescue Me), the dark tale of revenge and finding our line in the sand makes for an entertaining but imperfect film.
A younger pastor, ironically named Bishop (Lombardi), attempts to raise his daughters right in a town with questionable ethics. After one of Bishop’s daughters is killed, the pastor begins to fall apart at the seams. When a local police officer (Marc Menchaca) captures the man responsible, Bishop is offered a rare opportunity. However, torn between his faith, morality, and quest for revenge, Bishop must make an impossible choice.
Directed by Lombardi, Bridget Smith, and Samuel Gonzalez Jr., The Retaliators sways heavily between a few subgenres. On one hand, it is bloody and gory enough to justify its R rating, easily showing enough stylized sequences to channel the lifeblood of exploitation films of the 1970s. The dinginess comes across as a choice, and the bevy of rock stars from Papa Roach, Mötley Crüe, and others add to the vibe. After all, their hardcore sensibilities and attempts to wrangle with aggression feel at home within the story. The use of gore further sells the upsetting nature of the film, which finds the line between the aggression of those who occupy this world and a man looking for answers.
Lombardi shows his talent, especially when paired with Menchaca. The two bounce off each other and find common ground for the losses they’ve experienced in life. Despite showing different approaches for how they wish to handle their traumas, they seek the ability to heal. This becomes the heartbeat of the film, and when The Retaliators explores these themes, its at its best.
Unfortunately, there’s also an air of gratuitous and unnecessary violence throughout the film. There’s no doubt that there’s anger and sadness in these characters. Death might be inevitable, especially when confronted with pure evil in its many forms. However, nihilism throughout the film creates an oppressive feeling in the viewer. Even when characters are attempting to heal, the hopelessness becomes too oppressive. Worse, the film loses its important message in the scrum. While The Retaliators actively pushes its characters to choose non-violence, the mechanics of the story unleashes sub-human monsters on its characters. Even if our characters make the right choices, the faux-choice is undermined so The Retaliators can live up to its name.
Additionally, while the rock-infused soundtrack features some genuinely fun acts, the presence of these performers hurts the film. It’s not just that they distract from the action on screen (they do). Worse, they cannot bring the acting chops to keep us engaged in the film. This is not surprising, as they are not professional actors, but when your background actors fall flat and recognizable figures like Jacoby Shaddix undercut devasting emotional sequences, it begins a rolling snowball effect that hurts the quality on screen. When the film goes out of its way to highlight these cameos, it also slows the pacing of the film to a snail’s crawl. Unless you are a hardcore fan of the metal/nu-metal scene, The Retaliators feels even more lackadaisical in its efforts than it already does.
To The Retaliator’s credit, the final half-hour creates genuine tension. Once it chooses to go full horror, it is far more successful. After launching out of a cannon, the exciting finale does a lot to get us back into the tale. One wishes the exciting setpieces that tie us to the story’s conclusion were more spread out, but ultimately, it’s better they come later in the film than never.
An uneven but somewhat entertaining thriller, The Retaliators is a mostly successful action flick. However, the lows are very difficult to overlook as the story grinds to a halt. Those who love the music featured throughout The Retaliators and the musicians that populate the film will find a great experience. Perhaps that’s where this film will resonate, and in time become a cult classic.