The Retaliators hits theaters on Sept. 14, 2022.
The Retaliators promotes itself as heavy metal horror with a robust original soundtrack featuring scene rockers like Five Finger Death Punch and Papa Roach. Musicians on screen include multiple Five Finger Death Punch performers, legendary Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee, Ice Nine Kills frontman Spencer Charnas — crunchy electric guitar riffs and tattooed band members are the experience’s selling point. Writers Darren and Jeff Allen Geare (also known as the Geare brothers) pen sequences of revenge-soaked action and grotesque subterranean imprisonment to an ongoing playlist that sets a music video mood. It’s an enticing environment for headbanging horror fans as kicked-out jams drop needles without mercy, but can’t hide the rougher production elements of this indie that looks every bit within its slimmer budgetary range.
Personal tragedy influences The Retaliators, born from experiences lived by the Geare brothers’ sister, Jody, and her surviving a vicious rape assault solved by DNA advancements some 12 years later. Their screenplay introduces a pastor named Bishop (Michael Lombardi) — I know — who’s left grieving after the sudden death of his eldest daughter. What transpires is a man of faith torn between God’s promise to punish those deserving and Bishop’s earthly thirst for retribution, as the Geares ponder what depths revenge can plunge its obsessors. Bishop discovers far more nefarious forces at play as he chases clues behind his daughter’s shady demise, which is where horror influences overtake an otherwise more point-and-shoot battle against seedy criminals.
The rockstar appeal of The Retaliators is somewhat over-pronounced since cameos like Lee’s are as insignificant as the percussionist playing a one-scene strip club DJ. It’s rad watching Charnas eat a pistol’s barrel as a despicable brother owner, but that’s as a massive Ice Nine Kills fan who immediately recognized his identity. Song inclusions like All Good Things’ “For The Glory” or tracks from Mongolian folk metal knockouts The Hu are notable but continually outshine the events on screen. Musicians are used as actors to a detriment in parts, while needle drops don’t match the direness of chosen tones. There’s a constant battle between über-somber screenplay material and grindhouse freakishness, which drives momentum-killing wedges between standout scenes.
With three credited directors — Samuel Gonzalez Jr., Bridget Smith, and “additional” footage overseen by lead actor and producer Lombardi — you can sense separation within The Retaliators. We’re welcomed with blatant horror imagery in the introductory scene where road trippin’ women are attacked by zombielike creatures after their Dodge van breaks down, then immediately taken out of the nightmare moment and not reinserted until the film’s third act. The Retaliators is a backdoor Christmas horror movie set in New Jersey about ruthless drug dealers that never accentuates any environmental aspects, especially before an outrageous about-face once the third act remembers The Retaliators promised ravenous hordes of something at the its onset. Imagine The Retaliators is a Stretch Armstrong doll, and each director holds a different-elasticity appendage which they all pull in separate directions, ready to tear apart.
The Retaliators feels like a clip collection, chopped to bits by its jumpy pacing issues. One minute, officer Jed (Marc Menchaca) regales us with the depressing fate of his serial-killed wife. The next? Scantily clad women dance for Ivan Moody in a stereotypical stripper den while Lee slaps rumps. Ram Kady (Joseph Gatt) ignites warfare between two rival underground syndicates, yet we’re handcuffed to Bishop’s more dramatically dour navigation of Jed’s unique healing process. Special effects teams enjoy decapitating prosthetic dummies and letting the film’s villains munch rubber body parts, but only after so much of The Retaliators treats itself to an unspectacular distancing from aggressive genre embellishment. What action sequences exist are gratuitous but fleeting since the head-scratching thriller does a lackluster job blending subgenres into a flesh-eating true crime comeuppance from Hell.