In lesser hands, Better Noise Films’ new horror/thriller flick The Retaliators could have been little more than a vanity project for the record label and its star-studded roster. As it is, it’s hardly a perfect film – for one, there’s certainly some well-worn tropes at play – but it’s a gore-filled exercise several cuts above music industry themed disasters like American Satan. And the soundtrack, featuring the likes of Tommy Lee, Papa Roach, The Hu, Five Finger Death Punch and Bad Wolves ought to have sufficient drawing power for heavy rock devotees.
The film is reportedly loosely based on real-life events – this writer would suggest very loosely. A righteous pastor uncovers a dark and bizarre underworld as he seeks answers surrounding his daughter’s murder. While assorted musicians flesh out the cast, seasoned actors such as co-director Michael Lombardi (Rescue Me), a suitably grizzled Marc Menchaca (Ozark) and appropriately menacing Joseph Gatt (Game of Thrones, Thor) sensibly are left to do much of the heavy lifting. Even Clerks star Brian O’Halloran drops by briefly to move the story along.
The prospect of a host of hard rock musicians trying to play movie star could be enough to deter a number of film fans, but should offer a unique selling point for others amid a saturated horror market. Some of the rockers enlisted acquit themselves well here, while others are little more than window dressing. Papa Roach’s Jacoby Shaddix has a suitably uneasy presence as a psychopathic killer. Tommy Lee’s cameo as a strip club DJ might be the most obvious casting choice in Hollywood history, and From Ashes To New appear as a live band at a church service. Meanwhile, members of Five Finger Death Punch and Bad Wolves’ Doc Coyle (a noted movie geek) clearly embraced the medium.
Overall, at a taut little more than 90 minutes, and aided by sharp editing, there’s little room for the audience’s attention to wander. For a movie of this style there aren’t many surprises, but plenty of bloody demises will satisfy viewers that way inclined – particularly its extended brutal finale. The Die Hard-loving pastor’s inner conflict between his faith and desire for retribution does offer a point of difference from some other revenge films, and results in wink-and-nudge dialogue like, “’80s action heroes solve problems with violence and one-liners. Real life doesn’t work that way”. It’s not as fully realized or nuanced an exploration as the film-makers perhaps thought it to be though, and that story arc’s conclusion feels predictably gung-ho, if crowd-pleasing.
How successful The Retaliators is as a vehicle to further the Better Noise empire remains to be seen, but there’s clearly been plenty of enthusiasm infused into the project and the music utilized mostly enhances the story rather than being intrusive. As a film in its own right, The Retaliators is often familiar but proves more than watchable, and after its theatrical run should find a sizeable audience when it inevitably lands on a streaming service.
Heavy Music HQ Rating:
The Retaliators Trailer