UK Release Date – TBC
Well folks, it’s time for some good old fashioned revenge; a tried and tested motive we can all enjoy. But what happens when this theme is used by a Belgian film company who want to make an American style crime thriller? Will it be full of striking visuals and compelling symbolism, or will it just be full of French speaking actors trying to do gangster accents? Well in this case it’s a little from column A, and a lot from column B. There are plenty of grungy city streets lit by sodium and neon lights, lots of slow ambient driving and walking sequences, and a few grisly murders. But as we put our hands deep into this cesspit of death and misery, what else is there to discover?
Our main character Dago (Wild Dee) is a man on a mission. After spending 15 years behind bars in ‘a black hole’ he’s come back to the streets, and to the gutter that he calls home. His goal? To destroy a so-called pyramid of power held up by the 12 Apostles of Lucifer himself. It’s quite a dramatic statement of intent. What did they do to him exactly all those years ago? What happened to him in prison? Why are these low life crooks being given such a grand biblical title like this? Well I really wish I could tell you.
Beyond a handful of grainy monochrome flashbacks, we learn basically nothing about Dago as a person. His past is limited to a few brief shots of his younger self posing with guns and hanging out with barely clothed women. His former employers and the people he feels are responsible for his current despair are given just as much background. I was expecting some kind of genuinely bizarre villains, or at least some kind of seedy underground cult. But characterisation and even basic motivation details are almost entirely absent. Secondary characters barely talk at all.
Instead we get an endless series of dark, slow moving scenes in which Dago drives around occasionally stopping to murder someone. He talks a hell of a lot … but says very little. There are endless amounts of voice over narration here for some reason, sometimes he talks about religion, sometimes about death and vengeance. But we learn nothing about the structure of the organisation he wants to take down, and nothing about his own history beyond the fact he had a lover who is now on the hit list. Sometimes he even sits and rambles on about this sort of thing while looking directly into the camera. It goes on for a long time in some cases, and things aren’t helped by the fact that he’s clearly a European trying to do a grizzled Hollywood anti hero accent.
It’s an odd detail, but this regional conflict crops up quite a lot. Most of the film is visibly set in America, but they avoid giving any verbal clues or showing major landmarks. I guess they wanted to suggest the setting is a surreal and unknowable place, a mythical neo-noir city. But the visible US street signs and Belgian car license plates give things away. Some of the actors seem to be dubbed with strange English and Australian accents to mix things up a bit, but it’s never convincing. One flashback shows the death of someone listening to a JFK speech on a reel-to-reel tape player, hinting at a certain time and place in history for the characters. But it’s generally a confusing experience that fails to create a truly tangible world.
They stick to a fairly linear plot for the most part, with these scenes in the past interrupting here and there. However every so often news reports can be heard breaking the story of murders that have yet to happen. It’s probably an attempt at a different narrative style, but it doesn’t help things. All the allusions to Christian texts don’t really add anything either. It comes across as a simple story that has been cut up and rearranged to make it feel more thematically deep. They add chapter titles on screen and include a lot of flashy edits, but ultimately this is all just style over substance.
In a more typical story we would see flashbacks that actually give the central character a purpose, and each target on his hit list would offer insight into their own criminal hierarchy and his past life. Things would escalate as his methods become more extreme, and the agency or organisation in his cross hairs would become more reckless with their attempts to stop him. You could still include all the over arching religious imagery where appropriate. Each Apostle could have been a unique character instead of them all being a series of goons. Beyond a few killers wearing sunglasses at night and a mystery man sitting at an dimly lit bureau we see nothing of a bigger picture.
This isn’t a bad looking film, and some efforts have been made to add atmosphere including a few prog-rock and Ennio Morricone sound-a-like tunes. There are several interesting slow motion sequences, some psychedelic visuals, and some fairly gruesome revenge scenes. It’s a shame the deaths aren’t given the same slow motion treatment. But it just isn’t in service of anything. Even the references to George Orwell and Newspeak feel like random inclusions. It’s not a grim Blue Ruin type drama or an absurd Kill Bill style pastiche. It’s just a random series of things happening without any structure, all leading to a silly reveal and an even sillier ending. If it’s a dish best served cold you want, there are many more satisfying vendetta tales out there for you to get your teeth into.