Trigger Warning: Child abuse, self-harm
WHERE TO WATCH:
WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
Fueled by anger, a demolition worker seeks revenge against the man he holds responsible for a traumatic childhood incident.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
Child abuse, especially in a religious environment, is a difficult topic for any film. They are not the kind that you watch for the entertainment value, but rather for the characters, writing and performance, and to better understand the impact this scourge has on society.
Retaliation on DStv BoxOffice is one of them - a difficult film to watch, filled with toxic relationships, explicit self-harm (including sexual) and a certain quiet violence. No one would enjoy watching it - and I certainly did not - but it does bring to light the very real mental damage that adults struggle with that have been abused in their childhood, its ripples forever felt in their grown-up lives.
It follows construction worker Malky, played by Orlando Bloom, in the process of demolishing a church. At face value, he appears to be happy with his job, his girlfriend and devoted to looking after his mother. But simmering underneath is an uncontrollable rage that starts boiling over when a priest from his past returns to the community.
From the start, it's already heavily implied that this priest abused Malky, but that's not the big reveal of the film. Instead, it's a character study on his psychological downward spiral, wondering where his rage will lead him and how he will deal with his very real demon. While I applaud the film's direction and Bloom's heartfelt performance in a difficult role, the writing and pace were marred with dense monologues that exist purely to fill time rather than add meat to the bones.
This becomes especially apparent when you consider that Retaliation was originally a short film and the same directors and writer created this longer version. While the vision was there, the execution lacked foundation and narrative and focused too much on the character study. I just couldn't care enough about Malky as he is terrible to his girlfriend and best friend despite you understanding why he's like this. At the same time, his mother is another level of toxicity that I can just never understand when it comes to certain parents of abused children.
I was also not happy with the outcome for the priest, but it was the best for the character, though, providing an element of catharsis - something that might be useful for anyone who's experienced any level of abuse. Yet, the disconnect between the audience and the main character is an extensive divide, especially for someone privileged enough to have never really experienced such trauma.
Retaliation was not the film for me, and my score reflects that rather than the film being particularly bad. Yet, one of a film's main burdens is keeping the audience engaged in its subject matter and reaching across the divide of circumstances that separate us all. In this, the film failed, but someone who understands what Malky has gone through might feel differently.
If you have experienced or are experiencing abuse and need help, please reach out to one of these local organisations.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: