Jen & Sylvia Soska have acquired a modestly significant online cult following, codified via social networking, but one which is in danger of losing its potency if their output continues its present trajectory. I came to know of their existence around the end of 2012 when the pre-release buzz here in the UK for American Mary proved well-founded. One of my favourite films of recent years, American Mary seemed to mark the arrival of two great new authoritarian voices in genre cinema. Some brief digging introduced me to their rough-around-the-edges (to put it mildly) grindhouse-aping debut Dead Hooker In A Trunk, but it was American Mary that had me optimistic for a future that included the Soskas.
Then came last year’s inexplicable See No Evil 2; a film which saw the Soskas working as hired hands for WWE Studios, putting a slight shine on one of the poorest horror titles anyone’s ever misguidedly attempted to franchise. It had promise, but you can only polish a turd so much, and in the end the film’s lack of imagination and vaporising charisma was it’s death knell.
Vendetta continues this presumable contractual obligation with WWE, further evidencing the idea that pro-wrestlers not only can’t act, but simply shouldn’t. One might hope that the Soskas’ involvement raises Vendetta up above your usual straight-to-the-bargain-bin fare, but alas the film comes with no such imprint of auteurism. That spark that burned brightly with American Mary seems all but extinguished.
It’s interesting, I suppose, to see the Soskas broaden their repertoire, taking a step away from horror and over to the tough-guy movie as Chicago cop Mason Danvers (Dean Cain – yes, the TV Superman guy) gets himself arrested and imprisoned in order to exact vengeance on bigger-tougher guy Victor Abbot (Paul ‘The Big Show’ Wight); the criminal he put away who killed his wife. Having gotten up to date on the situation inside thanks to Exposition Prison Guard, Danvers begins his grudge match with Abbot. Hence the title. Vendetta. So, yeah, bit of a change of pace there. Yet the material, as you may well imagine from that brief plot synopsis, is generic in the extreme. The script totally void of inspiration.
So big guys accuse each other of crying like little bitches, say things like “let’s get one thing straight” and spend their time looking like they’re sucking on lemons. Production value is basic, shot mainly on location from the looks of things, but with little or no effort to create anything visually stimulating. Wide arms swing about the place like hulks of meat in a swerving refrigeration lorry. People get punched and kicked. Or stabbed or suffocated. While the Soskas have proven themselves previously, Vendetta looks like what it almost certainly is; a box-ticking exercise and absolutely nothing more. When the sisters have a personal investment in their material it shows in the work. There’s an indelible artfulness, even if that artfulness is gaudy or trashy. Vendetta is completely without life, vigor or flare. A passionless, comatose husk of a film.
I’ve seen worse movies that I’ve reviewed on here. Films more technically inept or fundamentally disappointing. But rarely has anything been such an overriding chore to sit through from beginning to end. But then, I suppose, this movie’s not for me. Vendetta is for fans of Paul ‘The Big Show’ Wight. A formulaic pantomime allowing him to sneer at people in a different environment. Or maybe there are fans of Dean Cain? He certainly has a remarkably busy resume. Neither Cain nor Wight have a particular character to speak of. Michael Eklund’s corrupt warden feebly manages a touch more, but is also unbelievable in the extreme. Will Vendetta therefore prove satisfying for either Dean Cain fans or wrestling fans? I find that impossible to gauge. I’d like to credit sports fans with being able to recognise a limp film when it’s presented to them. The appreciation of either is not mutually exclusive.
Mostly I’m concerned that the Soskas are prioritising building a body of work over what that body of work is made of. Vendetta and See No Evil 2 may prove to be financial security for them going forward, or a stepping stone allowing them the freedom to make more interesting, creative pictures like American Mary. If that’s so then they’re a necessary evil in getting the movies some of us are very interested in seeing. Trouble is that the modern world is impatient. And the online world that the Soskas carefully feather even more-so. I want to see them succeed, but work as humdrum as this is likely to thin the herd following them rather than expand it. If I’m right and these films are a means to an end, then that end needs to arrive as soon as possible. Because I’m rapidly losing the faith. If this is genuinely what they want to be doing? Well. I’m out.