September 13, 2022 The Retaliators (Movie Review)
With cameos from some of the biggest names in Active Rock, a soundtrack that’s thick with those same names, and plenty of blood to satiate your gore lust, why would you miss The Retaliators? So, let’s all go to the movies: it arrives at worldwide cinemas on Wednesday, September 14, 2022, thanks to Better Noise Films.
Exploring the underbelly of New Jersey, The Retaliators blends elements of Horror with the Thriller and a star-studded cast of musicians. But its story initially centers around a tragic Christmastime loss for the Bishop family, headed by father John (Michael Lombardi: Rescue Me series, Last Knights 2015). Heartbroken, the charismatic preacher turns to a career-hardened investigator, Detective Jed Sawyer (Marc Menchaca: Homeland series, Ozark series), for the answers he so desperately needs.
But the death of his elder daughter, Sarah (Katie Kelly: Game of Silence series, Sno Babies 2020), was an instance of wrong place, wrong time. And the drug deal that went so horribly wrong, resulting in the deaths of Arlo (Kristopher Kling: Banshee series, The Deuce series) and Sarah, opens a Pandora’s box that finds Vic (Ivan Moody of Five Finger Shit Punch), brother Ram (Joseph Gatt: Thor 2011, Game of Thrones series), and their entire gang unwitting instigators of a blood bath that has a surprise villain at its helm.
Clocking in at 95 minutes, The Retaliators was directed by Samuel Gonzalez Jr. (Railway Spine 2016, Battle Scars 2020), actor Lombardi, and Bridget Smith (Sno Babies 2020, Philly Christmas 2022), and was written by first-time screenwriters The Geare Brothers, Darren and Jeff. Heavy on gore worthy of a Horror flick (including a slew of decapitations), its story leans more toward a Crime Thriller, as it focuses on warring factions and the idea of retaliation.
But is it even possible to find justice in an unjust world? Probably not, but you can find plenty of rockstars, including Jacoby Shaddix of Papa Roach, Spencer Charnas of Ice Nine Kills, Craig Mabbit of Escape the Fate, Tommy Lee, From Ashes To New, Five Finger Death Punch, and more. All of them are equally included on the film’s soundtrack (which arrives September 16, 2022, via Better Noise Records), which also features the likes of The HU, Eva Under Fire, Asking Alexandria, Nothing More, Bad Wolves, and many, many more.
However, when it comes to the acting, it is the seasoned talents of Menchaca and Lombardi that anchor the entire production—though Kling delivers a phenomenal cameo performance as the doomed, wheelchair-bound Arlo. In the lead role of Bishop, Lombardi portrays the father-slash-preacher’s charismatic passion in his church sermons, tenderness with his daughters, and emotional conflict in his search for justice for Sarah’s death. The talented actor relays all of this with ease, playing off Menchaca’s more aggressive Jed, as the pair’s performance delivers the film’s underlying message. And as the impetus for the plot’s themes, they work well together: Lombardi as the firm believer in God’s justice and Menchaca as a force for vengeance.
Yet, they are working within the boundaries of a plot that is rather basic, lacking character development, and built on a foundation of cliches. Thankfully, The Retaliators manages to work with this source material to provide a fairly enjoyable experience, thanks in part to the cyclic nature of its script, which begins at the end. Here we meet two young women on a doomed road trip, about to perish at the hands of a horde of mindless, subhuman zombies. This opening scene is quick to deliver rabid Horror fans the bloodshed that they crave. While, visually speaking, it plays with a moody color palette that complements the very first on-screen tension; creating a haunting moment that lingers throughout the film.
Despite any shortcomings or successes with its script or production, many filmgoers are going to hone in on The Retaliators for its musician-heavy cast. And with a few exceptions, the bulk of the men serve as little more than cannon fodder. The exceptions, Jacoby Shaddix of Papa Roach as well as Five Finger Death Punch, play key roles in the film. Shaddix, as the reprehensible Quinn Brady, does his best with the part he is given, calling to mind Kiefer Sutherland’s Robert Doob in the 1996 Psychological Thriller, Eye For An Eye. Sure, it’s nearly impossible to envision the real Shaddix as a serial rapist/murderer, but, as an actor, he works within the bounds of his flat character to effectively bring an understated menace to the big screen.
Five Finger Death Punch are less successful in their myriad roles. Moody has the most material and takes the lead as Vic, a drug kingpin. His presence on-screen, like that of Shaddix, communicates menace, but the vocalist fails at offering much of anything to his character—his lack of body language and vocal inflection makes him little more than a thug who enjoys strippers and drugs.
So, much like its acting performances and screenwriting, The Retaliators is a mixed bag: neither the best nor worst Horror-Thriller that you will see in 2022. To its credit, creative camera work often aids in the success of its storytelling, and its Better Noise cast of musicians is a fun inclusion, leading to an overall enjoyable experience. On the downside, there are no strong female leads—though Kelly does herself proud in her short screentime, and Abbey Hafer (Vicky’s not here 2019, Sno Babies 2020) is sweet as could be—and there’s nothing groundbreakingly original about the film, but it’s still solid and sends a message.
Our takeaway? Avoid the backroads of New Jersey, roaming subhuman beasts, and remember that an eye for an eye leaves us all blind (and decapitated)! For this, Cryptic Rock gives The Retaliators 3.5 out of 5 stars.