3 Mar 2022
Julia Grace Jones
Julia Grace Jones
Nelson Pingitore, Clara Bentz, Valerie Sepulveda
An isolated patient handcuffed to a chair, an enigmatic voice speaking to them through a loudspeaker, conversations of punishment, hypocrisy and revenge; Julia Grace Jones’ short film Retribution definitely feels reminiscent of specific horror iconography. Though more focused on the psychological torment than physical, I’d say Jones’ script leans more towards David Slade’s Hard Candy than the brutality of Saw. A script unfortunately let down by underwhelming production design and acting as Jones’ direction can’t create a sense of dread in the patient and doctor’s game of cat and mouse. There are attempts to toy with the audience’s sympathies to make certain reveals hit harder but nothing rises above the mild tempo throughout the run time. They can all be seen a mile away and the performances do little to make them impactful.
The concept behind Jones’ film is striking and would offer interesting avenues of exploration in short form and long-form storytelling. I’m not sure if Jones’ toyed with presenting the potential body horror concepts more strikingly but the social themes of the film couldn’t be more timely. Retribution without getting deep into spoilers offers a glimpse of a dystopian present where women’s reproductive rights have clearly been stripped by hard-right political actions. It’s a daunting reality, made more striking by actual actions of governments in recent months where women will be severely punished for seeking abortions. With that backdrop, Jones’ uses her three characters to explore the hypocrisy of men, sexual violence, control within patriarchy and vigilante justice.
All fascinating ideological explorations which I felt were mostly handled tastefully in the context of the horror-thriller genre Jones crafts them around. It’s not all perfect as I felt some accepts of performance undercut the messaging though Nelson Pingitore’s depiction of petulant male rage was very convincing. Jones’ depiction of men’s hypocrisy towards women was my favourite element of the film and the patient’s successful “surgery” adds to that gloriously. Retribution is likely a film that would anger some audiences and have them spout off certain buzzwords and rally similar sentiments the film alludes to through its main character. Though at times the film can feel like a lecture but only because that’s how the story is presented, the doctor and patient speaking back and forth.
The short film trap of two characters talking in a room which Jones can’t get out of as the danger of the scenario isn’t well captured by the filmmaking. From the obvious fake handcuffs to Pingitore’s overacting (specifically his eye movements), the themes of Jones’ script are let down by the presentation. A decent idea that could be improved by sharper writing and production, Retribution’s potential unfortunately isn’t fully realised.