February 16, 2014

Movie Review: Ms. 45

Over recent years, I have seen my appreciation, enjoyment, and love for old school horror, cult, and exploitation films grow by leaps and bounds. However, for as much enjoyment as I get from them, there is still the big question of what ones to look for and where to find them. Fortunately, my taste shift has coincided with becoming friends with a few folks whose knowledge of these films is encyclopedic and they have helped guide me, told me names, titles, all manner of information. One of those titles that came up some time back is Ms. 45, a personal favorite of one of my friends. It is now one more I can check off the list and I highly recommend that you seek it out as well.

Ms. 45 was released way back in 1981 and it exists at the crossroads of mainstream revenge flicks like Death Wish and with more exploitative and grimy tales such as those in The Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave. It is a rape/revenge tale that does not rub your face in the ugliness of the former while spending a bit more time on the revenge portion. Still, it blends the two ends of the spectrum together in a concoction that is as alluring as it is off-putting. It is a study of character and the effects the violence has on an already unbalanced mind, while never reminding you that when you go down the rabbit hole, judgment is impaired and there really is no way out.

The movie was brought to you by the team of director Abel Ferrara and writer Nicholas St. John. They are probably better known for films like King of New York with Christopher Walken and Bad Lieutenant with Harvey Keitel, but for me, this may be the height of their work. It is a grimy, gritty movie that takes you into New York City well before it was cleaned up. It is one of those movies (along with films like Maniac) that captures the look of an era, a look that no longer exists. It just adds that little something, a heaping dose of atmosphere to a low budget independent production that is near impossible to replicate.

At the center of the story is Thana (Zoe Tamerlis), she is a young worker in the fashion industry. She is a lovely young woman who is so shy and introverted as to be unable to speak. One day, on her way home from work, she is attacked and raped in an alley. Needless to say, Thana is completely traumatized by the attack. Upon returning home, she finds her apartment has been broken into and the burglar is still there. He, too, rapes her. However, Thana is able to turn the tables on him, killing him with an iron. This proves to be a turning point in the film.

Watch Thana as the realization of what has happened dawns on her. She begins to change. She still does not speak, but she takes to carrying the .45 (hence the title) that her second attacker had. Slowly, we watch as Thana begins to become somewhat empowered, killing men who seem aggressive or pose her a threat. This quickly escalates to a seeming desire to wipe out the male species, killing virtually any man she comes in contact with. It escalates to a climactic event that threatens every man in her line of sight.

It is fascinating to watch her interactions and how they change over the course of the film. Her shyness becomes fear, her fear becomes anger, and all of these elements morph Thana into this avenging angel, dealing death indiscriminately, and at times seeming to enjoy it. It is awfully unsettling. You want to cheer her for her desire for revenge, but you have to be scared of her as her net widens to include even those who are just slightly sketchy.

The film is anchored by the debut performance of Zoe Tamerlis, a newcomer who was only 19 when she filmed this role. She goes through the entire movie without uttering a word, allowing her large eyes and expressive face to tell the tale for her, allow her to convey her thoughts and wishes without having to say anything. It is a powerful performance and one that is totally captivating. You will not want to look away from her whenever she is on screen.

Ms. 45 is a movie that examines the mind of the victim. In this case, the introvert is sent into a downward spiral, driven there by terrible events. We then see, as she has no network for support or outlet for anything, the introvert snapped in the other direction, becoming empowered with a gun in her hand and a desire to stop bad things from happening before they have a chance to get started.

Abel Ferrara skillfully directs the brief 80-minute film. There is no wasted frame getting us from start to finish, everything is there for a reason. It may not be the most realistic, but it is effective in getting across the mind of a victim. Also, considering she does not speak, you are forced to interpret her body language and expressions and put a little bit of yourself into her mind. Alternatively, you could just view it as a girl pushed to the edge and acting out in violent fashion.

All I can really say is that you should watch the film. It is a wonderfully grimy film with a fantastic lead performance, a complex look at a victim that draws you as it pushes you away. It is very effective and well worth the effort.

Highly Recommended.

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Unknown said...

Nice write up! Totally agree. At first I was like cheering her on, get 'em girl!! Then I was like: She's totally gone, flipped out! Just killing anyone male. Cool the dog lived though :)

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