CW: domestic violence, child abuse and death
It didn’t occur to me until sitting down to watch this week’s film that we’d post reviews for it on Valentine’s Day. I can’t say this news affects me much since V-Day has always struck me as a rather nonsense holiday (sorry, St. Valentine). However, it’s perhaps a bit too on the nose for the Blog Collab that our film to mark the holiday of love involves very dark themes of domestic violence, revenge, and toxic relationships.
A woman seeks justice for victims of abuse by taking matters into her own hands…while holding onto her own personal vendetta.
After receiving a message from a married woman living with an abusive husband and fearful for her children, punching bag heavy hitter Sadie gets ready to take action. Applying color contacts, donning a wig, and watching a speedy liquid latex tutorial, she’s certainly got things checked off when it comes to covering her tracks.
When Sadie arrives at the home of the caller (at a time when the kids won’t be around), things take a violent turn pretty quickly. Using her fists to persuade the husband to leave and never return, she first forces him to sign the house over to his wife and transfer all of his money to her bank account. Should he ever return, Sadie assures him she’s very prepared to send him to an early grave.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that a woman who takes on these kinds of endeavors is holding onto some dark secrets of her own. Though Sadie is meticulous about keeping things free of evidence and ready for a quick departure if needed, the scars on her back make it obvious there’s physical and emotional trauma in her past. She keeps a map of a wilderness area with her, marking off locations slowly but surely. When particular sounds begin to play on her phone, Sadie has a meltdown, soothed only by a coloring page that includes the letter C, tracing its pattern repeatedly.
Ultimately, though, very little can distract Sadie from her mission to help those experiencing abuse. Sadie attends a support group for women who have left violent situations–is this for her own benefit or to connect with people she can help? Though she seems to have a soft spot for children, Sadie intervenes to help a young boy and his brother, yet leaves them to get further support from child services (which feels like a good call and the only choice that makes sense, honestly).
If you’re guessing that all of these clues add up to an incredibly sad story for Sadie, you’re not wrong. Sadie’s ex was the sort of bonechilling doomsday prepper/wilderness survivalist dreaming of living off the grid who probably would’ve stormed the Capitol in January given the chance. When he finally sees a way to realize his dreams of shitting in the woods and filtering water through a cheesecloth with Sadie and their son, Sadie realizes she needs to get away now or she never will. Unfortunately, she makes a tragic error, and awful trash human attacks Sadie and kills their son. With her ex missing but not declared dead, Sadie gets very little money to survive on as she cannot claim any of the sizeable life insurance policy.
Soon after a woman from group therapy worries that Sadie is throwing her life away, Sadie finally manages to track down her ex. Or, rather, her ex tracks her down just before she does. Clearly Sadie won’t go down without a fight–but will this be her last one?
3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
I oscillated between 3.5 and 4 for this one. First, credit where credit’s due: Olivia Wilde absolutely carries this film uphill in the snow, both ways. There’s a lot going for the film beyond her performance, but so much hangs on her ability to switch between intense emotions and to let those come through in her eyes and facial expressions. On a shallow note, she has some truly excellent wigs.
What’s more is the power of the themes addressed in the film and a semi-realistic approach to the toll that abuse and Sadie’s vigilante lifestyle take on her physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It’s a relief, honestly, to see someone who has made vengeance their mission have human feelings and reactions rather than sort of flip a switch to become an emotionless sociopath (sorry, sociopaths–I know this word gets tossed around unfairly whenever someone means heartless or evil).
However, there were a few things that did take me out of the film a bit. Structurally, there are some issues here. Even though it helped to build tension, the late reveal of Sadie’s past (around halfway through the film) made the story feel a bit disjointed and a little difficult to follow the timeline. Our understanding of why Sadie is helping survivors of abuse changes, as well as the financial motivation she has to track down her husband. I think a narrative that wove Sadie’s past with her present more effectively would have made things more impactful.
And here’s my typical problem with revenge films that A Vigilante falls into in some moments: there is a point in the film where the protagonist has to fulfill their mission of vengeance of the story will not be satisfying. It’s difficult to reconcile that with the idea that revenge is a destructive, all-consuming force, so that theme doesn’t come across quite as powerfully as it should. And the last act of the film was satisfying, but I also felt conflicted about the amount of violence Sadie suffered onscreen at the hands of her husband. Up to this point of the film, the abusive acts happened offscreen, and it felt somewhat voyeuristic to watch these happen. There’s an upsetting part of my brain that wonders if there’s someone jacking off to these scenes or using them to support some twisted conclusion that domestic violence isn’t really a problem because survivors could always just kill their abuser–problem solved.
At this point, I’m not willing to give humanity a whole lot of credit.