RUNNING TIME: 73 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera
The Dark Moon gang is a group of female bikers whose headquarters is a motorcycle shop ran by their leader Trigga. Each member shares one thing in common; they’ve been sexually assaulted by a man. Therefore the gang spends much of its time giving some payback to males who’ve abused women. Second in the gang is Maggie, so when Maggie’s cousin May is drugged and raped by three college jocks, the gals can’t wait to give them some abuse too. However, Maggie then falls for Brian, also a football player but a nice guy….
Melanie Aitkinhead’s feminist biker rape revenge flick is short on finesse but excites and compels. The title was the first to catch my eye when looking over the list of GrimmFest movies on offer, being as I do sure like rape/revenge flicks, even if I felt like I needed to have a bath after watching and reviewing the whole I Spit On Your Grave franchise last week. I don’t feel that I need to make any excuses for liking this subgenre. I also rather like biker movies, even if the only time I ever rode a motorbike was on the back of one being absolutely terrified and holding on to my mate for dear life. So Revenge Ride seemed a good one for me to do. Much like Fried Barry, it’s based on a short named Blood Ride which features much of the same cast and crew, though one possible flaw with it is that even this expansion doesn’t seem quite like a full movie, which is not something I could say for Ten Minutes To Midnight which had a similar duration. Of course there’s nothing wrong with a short running time; lots of my favourite really old horror movies are around the 70-minute mark, but I do get the sense of a story not totally realised, as if a few beats are either missing or rushed. But that may just be down to the very low budget so let’s not go on about that. Though I blow hot and cold on feminist-themes movies [feminism is a cool and and essential thing, but at times in films it can descend into misandry which is not cool and the opposite of essential], I really enjoyed Revenge Ride, so I’ve come more to praise than to bury.
A familiar biker movie opening scene of bikes whizzing down a street cuts to a woman smoking and remembering something; a time when she had a most unpleasant date. The guy comes to pick her up and they drive off to go and see a scary movie, but then she’s clunked on the head with a gun and raped. The act isn’t seen in much detail at all, but I was actually very grateful for this considering the series that I said I’d recently been watching in the above paragraph. Some quick, hard to make out, cuts then turn into a slow zoom out from outside the car back window through which we can just about see something horrible happening while the zoom out reveals that they’re at a drive-in and nobody else is there. Now in a way this scene is deceptive because you think that it’s going to be important in the plot. However, despite being rather unnecessarily repeated nearly an hour in, it’s not, really. Its second use does remind us that Maggie is supposed to hate men and why she’s in this gang, but that’s all; we don’t see any revenge taken on this unseen guy who I thought would turn out to be one of the principal male characters in the film. However, it does serve as a good introduction to the idea that every single member of this gang is a rape victim, and feels empowered being with these ladies who take no shit and like nothing less than to punish men who treat women as pieces of meat. The gang, who by the way have the phrase ‘Suck My Pussy’ etched into the back of their leather jackets, is introduced boozing it up in their headquarters, with Pollyanna McIntosh in fine intimidating form as the leader Trigga, shouting, “we don’t need any men”-style words and urging them to, “get f***** up”.
But there’s another party taking place at the same time, a college do where three not very nice guys are surveying the “talent”. They are Keegan, Nona and Tanner, and, despite being advised by their coach Eddie to, “not have a goddamn hangover tomorrow morning”, are there to party, and in their own unforgiveable way. Brian, also a football player but not at all like these three, tries to help a girl named Mary who falls on him because she’s seemingly very drunk, but the others take her into the house where she’s raped, again only very briefly shown, and one of them even films the act, though the latter is another thing which you think is going to prove important later and isn’t; in fact it’s totally forgotten. Mary humiliatingly wakes up on the school grounds the next morning as everyone is going to their first classes, still in party clothes – on the school grounds. Now it gets a bit unbelievable that this isn’t investigated. This film may have been inspired by the numerous college rapes that go unreported, but seeing where Mary ends up I find it odd that, even if Eddie knows what his boys get up to and is happy to keep it a secret, even Administrator Geyer doesn’t want to know, while of course none of the girls want to to go to the police because, after all, “what are they gonna do”? Oh well, I guess we needed to keep things quick-paced and get to the revenge part seeing as there’s not much of a running time.
The gals converge on a bar where the lads are at and Maggie chats up Brian. It’s not clear as to whether she does this just out of interest or to find out how involved with the crime he was; I suppose it’s a bit of both. She then sends him away as she and the others grab the three rapists. Trigga gets Mary to shoot a blank from a gun at Keegan, then they pull down their trousers and brand their bottoms with something. However, Brian sees this, though he doesn’t tell anyone. Mary now joins the gang and her growing empowerment is a joy to see and really well played by Vanessa Dubasso. I couldn’t help but see similarities with I Spit On Your Grave 3: Vengeance Is Mine in some of this, though I wonder if a far greater inspiration was She-Devils On Wheels, the 1968 biker movie from that early goremeister Herschell Gordon Lewis and one of his better-made pictures. Anyway a romance soon develops between Brian and Maggie, and Maggie becomes torn between her gang and her fella. You may think that you’ve go it all worked out from here, but there are a few surprises in store. You know that there’s going to be a scene where Brian tells Maggie that he saw her aiding in carrying out revenge on Keegan, Nona and Tanner, but it doesn’t play out as intended and is probably more realistic. You know that the violence is going to escalate, but this doesn’t happen in a totally predictable way. You know that there’s going to be tragedy, but you’ll be surprised how much you’ve come to care about the characters. And, while the film seems to be initially supporting the idea of punishing nasty men, it develops a message that violence just begats violence and may not be the right answer.
Revenge Ride is shot with a handheld camera that’s rarely steady, something that’s a little distracting in some of the dialogue scenes where you want to be able to totally focus on what we’re seeing and hearing, but we get some good shots here and there nonetheless, especially when action is being bathed in outdoor nighttime light. However, the performances are all pretty good, Serinda Swann as Maggie being the stand-out. When she starts to like Brian, she lets us know by subtle expressions and her eyes, and she vividly expresses how torn her character becomes. I think I’ve only ever seen her in 2011’s Creature and in a very small role in Tron: Legacy but will be looking out for her in future. Characterisation is decent for the ladies, not so good for the guys, at least the three jocks. One gets the impression that they feel that it’s their right, perhaps because of their sporting prowess, to use women in this way, but the script could have expanded a bit on this without taking up any more than an extra minute’s time. Likewise the showing of a lesbian attraction between two of the characters. This just seems very rushed and could have done with a couple more beats that wouldn’t have diverted attention from the main storyline. However, it could also be a sign that the film was involving me when I say that I wanted to know about its characters, especially Trigga who’s so full of hate and pain – and that many of them still felt like rounded people. I ‘bought’ the romance, something that’s often my least favourite part of a film like this, and dialogue seems fairly believable. Screenwriter Timothy Durham even provides a few amusing lines like, “you’re too f****** dumb to play stupid with me”.
The film only truly falls down majorly with its fight scenes, for which it’s obvious that not nearly enough rehearsal time was available no matter how much Aitkenwood and cinematographer Eiten Almagor try to disguise this with close-ups. The bloody moments, even if we tend to only see the aftermaths in detail, look decent enough though – but look out for one instant where somebody looks horribly injured and in what just seems like 20 or so minutes later seems to have recovered incredibly quickly! Of course this is something we’ve come to expect in cheapie indies so I won’t hold it against Aitkenhead. With a surprisingly strong grindhouse feel to it yet still coming across as a film made in 2020, Revenge Road has an energy and, increasingly, a surprising intelligence, to it. We’re asked to consider the true price of acts committed, one of several things that prevents this from becoming a hateful polemic such as the dire remake of Black Christmas [which had some similar themes] which seemed to express hatred of men in every other scene. If, at heart, Revenge Road is a film to be enjoyed most by a group of young ladies and some booze, I reckon that quite a few guys will also enjoy seeing its sexy biker chicks taking it and dishing it out.