by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)
The Soska Sisters, Jen and Sylvia, have quickly become two of my favourite directors. With only a handful of credits to their name, I get excited at the thought of more of their stuff to watch every time I hear more is coming. Be it a short segment in anthology horror films like The ABC’s of Death or another WWE Studios flick, like Vendetta.
With their directorial debut, a film school project back in 2009 called Dead Hooker in a Trunk and an amazing follow-up with their body horror American Mary, the “Twisted Twins” made a name for themselves with their style and don’t-give-a-crap attitude towards film and genre conventions. Giving film lovers something different to sink their teeth into and developing quite the following of doting fans, myself included.
I admit to being quite surprised when I read that the indie directors were stepping away from the horror genre for their latest project. Their second WWE Studios film in a row after the sadly quite disappointing See No Evil 2, and the latest film in a series of lower budget films put together in a deal between the wrestling giant and Lionsgate Films, Vendetta is the beginning of the so-called “Action Six-Pack” series of films. Lower budget action films starring WWE wrestlers that will be releasing straight to Video-On-Demand services with very limited theatrical releases.
Vendetta is the story of police detective Mason Danvers (Dean Cain) who, after putting away infamous criminals Victor Abbott (Paul “Big Show” Wight) and his brother, finds himself desperately seeking revenge when a crooked system allows the murderous brothers to go free and Victor pays back his incarceration by beating the detective’s wife to death in their home. With Victor back in prison and out of Danvers’ reach, the detective starts his…. *ahem*…. vendetta by hunting out and killing Victor’s little brother, Griffin. Getting himself put into the same prison that Victor has been running his little empire from, Mason takes it upon himself to pull apart Abbott’s world piece-by-piece.
Now anyone that’s seen almost any copper in prison film knows that these things never go smoothly. Danvers has a hard time getting anywhere near his target when the man’s goons are layered up three deep between Mason and Victor and the former detective needs to get through all of them, plus a corrupt system, just to get his hands on the man the murdered his wife. Seemingly stumped at every turn, Mason gets all the more desperate as time goes on, resorting to the simpler, more straight-forward option of cutting a bloody path through the middle of Abbott’s henchmen all on his own.
The thing with straight-to-VOD movies, is that you can go in with very low expectations. It doesn’t matter how much faith you have in the people involved, if a film went straight-to-VHS back in the day, the only people that saw it were the guys that LIVED at Blockbusters and had run out of even middling B-Movies to watch (disclaimer, this is how I knew who Albert Pyun was on the podcast the other week, I remember being well excited to watch the Ice-T and Christopher Lambert starring Mean Guns). But at the same time, the cool thing about a film going straight-to-iTunes is that those low expectations can be easily blown out of the water, and I think this is more-or-less where Vendetta lies.
The film has all the fingerprints of its directors, the direction and cinematography all look like it was made by someone that specialises in horror films (funny, that) and has some beautifully atmospheric shots where I genuinely didn’t expect to see them. It’s a great thing to watch a director, or a pair of directors, step out from their comfort zone and into not only an equally crowded genre, but one where it’s all too easy to fall into the stereotypes and tropes it’s famous for. But what makes what Jen and Sylvia so special is that where these tropes do inevitably appear, they embrace the stereotypes and run with them as fast and hard as they can.
Dean Cain does a great turn as the tortured detective. In a role that has been done to death, he still plays it well and acts his heart out making the role his own. I’m no expert, but it certainly looks like what few stunts the film has, Cain is doing them himself. Not being a big follower of the man, I was impressed to see him showing off some half-decent fighting skills in a few really well shot fight scenes and I got a massive, massive laugh at the irony of him calling his partner “Pretty Boy” near the start of the film. Although, we should all wish to look that good when we hit 48 years old. Paul Wight, WWE’s “Big Show”, a man who I’ve only seen previously in an episode of Psyche I believe, is not only one of the biggest recipients of the advantages a series of WWE films has; we don’t expect much from the wrestlers involved. We never do, we simply can’t. We’ve seen far too many of these guys come from the ring and completely bomb on-screen. Big Show certainly doesn’t fall into that category, his lack of acting experience certainly shows through but the effort he’s putting in shows through just as much and considering the slew of unwatchable bollocks we’ve seen from wrestlers in the past, he’s done a half-decent job of convincing me that he’s an actor. The big guy uses all his size to be this huge, overpowering beast of a man in a prison filled with dangerous men and he’s more than convincing in the role.
The Soskas have brought their skills across to the Action Thriller genre really rather well. The revenge thriller seems like the perfect place for the ladies to hone their craft a little and a great job they did with it, too. In what was a completely expected turn of events, things looked polished and lovely whenever there was a fight, or there was a reason to make somebody bleed, that’s the twins’ bread and butter after all. One key scene around two thirds of the way through sees someone pick up a very large scalpel with quite a lot of menace in their eyes. As a fan of the directors, it was a beautiful moment for me, I was sat in a silent house with my feet up, the dog next to me and a coffee in my hand as I let out an audible giggle followed by “ooooh, shit’s about to get very real”. It’s moments like that that I know I’m watching more than just your everyday, run-of-the-mill cheap indie film.
The Twisted Twins have put together a really fun film in Vendetta; unapologetic in its borrowing from some of the classics in the genre while adding in a few flares of their own. As prison films go, it’s much closer to Escape Plan than it is Lock Up, but it’s not trying to be big or clever, it’s just trying to entertain and in that aspect, it delivers in spades. I mean, it’s low budget, it’s kind of derivative and it sits in a long line of WWE films that could have been better. But it’s got two of the best horror directors in the world and Superman in it! Why wouldn’t you watch it? It’s B-Movie silliness at its best and when it finally finds its way to the late night premiere on Sky Movies, there’s no reason not to watch it.