Stories about men encountering a crisis of faith are as old as stories, or as old as crises, or at least as old as faith. They are old anyway. Men believing in stuff is boring. Men having to confront their beliefs and put them to the test is interesting. Or it can be. Making that man a man of the cloth, a priest or pastor or preacher, and having him confront his own faith in God can be really interesting, but you have to be careful with that, as it can also get creaky and corny real fast.
In The Retaliators, Pastor Bishop (Michael Lombardi) has a crisis of faith that will test him to the bone. He’s a single dad, caring for two girls, one a teenager, the other still in elementary school. He’s pastor for one of those suburban, nondenominational, wants-to-be-oh-so-hip churches that seem to pop up everywhere like dandelions. It’s the sort of church that hires a hard rock band (played by real-life nu-metal band From Ashes to New) for its Christmas Eve service (and whose audience is filled mainly with middle age to aging white folks nod their heads in approval while they play). Bishop practices what he preaches as we see when he takes his girls to get a Christmas tree and is confronted by a big jerk (played by Kevin Smith favorite Brian O’Halloran). The jerk takes the tree out of one of the girl’s hands and rushes up to the cashier to check out. Though his girls beg him to do something, Bishop turns the other cheek and gets a different tree.
For a hot minute, the film follows the eldest daughter, Sarah (Katie Kelly), as she begs her dad to let her go to a Christmas party at one of her friends. He relents, gives her the car keys, and she’s on her way. At a gas station, she encounters a strange man and notices there seems to be something alive in his trunk. I really thought the film was going to follow her as she battled with this man and teams of zombies (in the opening scene we watch a couple of women get attacked by a group of fast zombies).
But instead, the film starts following Bishop in the aftermath of a tragedy. In his search for who caused the tragedy, he crosses paths with Detective Jed Sawyer (Marc Menchaca) who has his own tragic backstory (which we’ll follow for a time in a flashback). His own investigation into Bishop’s tragedy leads him back to the guy Sarah encountered at the gas station. His name is Ram Kady (Joseph Gatt) and he’s involved in some kind of criminal conspiracy. The guy in the trunk was part of a drug deal gone wrong. The film follows that story for a bit before coming back to Jed and Bishop.
Jed offers Bishop the chance to enact real revenge and it is here that we come to that crisis of faith I talked about at the beginning of this review. Will Bishop forgo his Christian vows and seek revenge on the person who hurt his family, or will he resist and keep his faith? The film ponders that question for maybe two minutes before the zombies are unleashed. Actually, they are technically not zombies, as the film more than once points out, but they look and act like zombies and I’ve never understood the need to argue over such things.
It is here the film actually starts to resemble something interesting. Up until this moment, the film has followed too many different threads and tried to be too many things to really keep my intention. But once the zombies come out, things get fun. That crisis of faith the Pastor was having is completely gone. I guess your religious vows go out the door once hordes of monsters are trying to eat your brains. The film wasn’t really shy about showing violence before this moment, but now it really lets the gore flow. It’s just too bad this scene comes in so late in the film, and then it’s over far too quickly.
The film’s score is made up of a bunch of heavy metal tunes which feel completely out of place up until the gore is unleashed. The film is littered with cameos from various heavy metal stars including Tommy Lee, Craig Mabbitt, and members of Five Finger Death Punch. None of those names mean anything to me, but if you are a fan, then I guess that’s cool.
In interviews with the cast included in this Blu-ray release everyone acts as if this film digs deeper than most horror films of its ilk. But I don’t see it. The larger question of whether or not Bishop will forgo his beliefs and engage in violent revenge is thrown out almost as soon as it is asked. The zombie rampage is a way for him to commit violence without having to question whether or not he should. And deeper questions about how this violence might affect his faith once the bloodletting is over are completely glossed over.
What we’re left with is a film that feels disjointed and shallow. But also kind of fun once it lets loose and lets the gore flow.
Extras on this Blu-ray of The Retaliators from Quiver Distribution include cast interviews, music videos, and the theatrical trailer.
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