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October 23, 2015

Men worry that women will laugh at them; women worry that men will kill them. The entire rape-revenge genre grows from a desire to even that playing field, if only a little. And so it is with Julia, the latest entry, and one of the better ones. Obviously, strong trigger warnings apply from here on out.

The first best choice that writer/director Matthew A. Brown does is to skip over the actual rape scene. There is nothing to be gained from seeing Julia (Ashley C. Williams) in the midst of her violation. Unfortunately, he later goes back on this choice, though he does at least avoid eroticizing it. Her drugged body lies inert as her eyes go vacant, trying to be anywhere but here.

We are led to understand that this isn’t Julia’s first time as a victim of sexual violence. She believes the police will be helpless. She cuts herself. And then she meets Sadie (Tahyna Tozzi), who has not only survived her own ordeal, but bounced back with a badass-bitch attitude. Sadie, in turn, refers Julia to Dr. Sgundud (Jack Noseworthy) and his experimental new therapy that will allow Julia to take back the power that she feels was lost. Though, he firmly explains, this will not be a personal revenge, and she must obey his directions.

There are some short scenes here and there where Julia talks with Dr. Sgundud, but most of the therapy is conducted by Sadie. First she gives Julia a makeover. Then they go to bars, where Julia learns how to attract and seduce a man away from his girlfriend, only to beat him up when they get him alone. And the violence keeps escalating, until they capture a man — supposedly he was the one who attacked one of the other patients — and torture him.

On the one hand, I can see a certain perverse justice in the method. Women go out every night worried that someone they meet will harm them. It may seem only fair that men be subjected to the same fear. Personally, I’d prefer the status quo change in the direction of everyone feeling safer, but that’s not the point of a movie like this.

More troubling is the way that, intentionally or not, Julia paints women who push back against rape culture as sadistic, man-hating lesbians. Their male ally is rendered effete and effeminate, and yet at the same time is a cruel, domineering force. Once you get past the surface of Brown’s concept, the underlying politics are all over the map, and kind of a giant mess.

Still, if you can get past that and just take the movie as a cross between I Spit On Your Grave and a sort of torture-porn, it’s relatively well-executed. Williams is already comfortable with extreme material after her performance in The Human Centipede, and she handles Julia’s transition from shrinking violet to out-and-proud badass with grace. It’s strong stuff, but probably about as good as this sort of gory thriller is going to get, if that’s what you’re into.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: fail.
This review also appears at Punch Drunk Critics.

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