Studio: Archstone Distribution
Director: Matthew A. Brown
Writer: Matthew A. Brown
Producer: Ty Walker, Matthew A. Brown
Stars: Ashley C. Williams, Tahyna Tozzi, Jack Noseworthy, Joel de la Fuente, Cary Woodworth, Darren Lipari, Ryan Cooper, Brad Koed, Sean Kleier, Bridget Megan Clark
Sexually assaulted and left for dead, a shy nurse undergoes a radical transformation to take revenge against the men who attacked her.
The straight-lined pout, plastic-framed glasses, and a face trying to hide behind hair that just isn’t long enough say a lot about who Julia is. Shy, introverted, reserved, and an easy mark. That’s precisely how Piers recognizes Julia as the perfect prey for he and his pals to seduce, drug, assault, and dump by the water for the tide to dispose of the evidence.
But Julia doesn’t play dead very well. Up she rises both literally and figuratively as Julia undergoes a transformative reawakening with the aid of a controversial doctor and his cabal of reprogrammed female agents. One problem though. Dr. Sgundud doesn’t want Julia to take revenge against her attackers, as that would be counterproductive to the goal of his radical therapy program. Except the more confidently independent that Julia becomes, the less concern she has for following anyone’s instructions outside of her own.
“Julia” debuted in the U.S. with a festival circuit tour that saw the film taking home trophies including “Best Actress” for star Ashley C. Williams at Screamfest and “Best Picture” at the Orlando Film Festival. Take a look at numerous reviews and you’ll find more than one instance of the phrase “tour de force” and top scores awarded with overwhelming praise. This is not one of those reviews. “Julia” is a movie confused for being more important than it really is because it contains controversial subject matter glossed by overwrought visual sheen. The reality is that “Julia” is all surface and little substance.
“Julia” doesn’t take place in this reality. It takes place in some bizarre “Blade Runner” rape-revenge fantasy setting. We’re talking the type of subdued cyberpunk environment where steam rises from the streets, cigarette smoke wafts through every room, interiors are so artistically vandalized that even toilet seats have graffiti, and the entire thing is lit by rich red and green lights shining through venetian blinds. There are even Chinatown-set scenes and a finale culminating in NYC’s version of LA’s Bradbury Building, just in case a blind person missed the other myriad Ridley Scott influences.
It isn’t that the production design is unoriginal. It is that it is so heavy handed that it mires the movie in an overinflated sense of cinematic self-importance. Thumping beats accompany alternating nightclub lights as Julia sheds her coat in slow motion. She and her lesbian lover make out, also in slow motion, while one of them is covered in blood. Symbolism draws so much attention to itself as to lose the point of being symbolic. And the film’s look is so hyperstylized with Argento-esque lighting, slow zooms, and sequences set to Mozart music that it would be ludicrous to take seriously.
Fiction-wise, the film is set in a world populated only by misogynistic men. Julia is trained to be a Natasha Romanov-like street vigilante who seduces men and stabs them in dark alleyways as a penalty for succumbing to her sexual charms. In law enforcement, that is called entrapment. In “Julia,” it is merely part of the story’s inference that every guy in a bar who returns the suggestive gaze of a woman offering a come hither stare is only one beer away from committing rape. Therefore, he deserves a blade in his belly.
The anti-heroine is explicitly instructed to not seek vengeance against those who wronged her, tasked instead with purposefully creating new enemies to dispatch. When Julia disobeys doctor’s orders and tracks down the rapist ringleader, she finds he has already been castrated by someone else, thereby denying Julia and the audience the satisfaction of seeing her get even. How is “Julia” supposed to gratify as a revenge thriller when she isn’t the person exacting the revenge? Julia also has to be rescued by someone else during the finale, diminishing the empowerment subtext even further. “Julia” is peppered with plot points like these that are entirely at odds with the normal narrative purpose of a rape-revenge movie.
When “Julia” does stick to formula, it ends up following trends to a fault. As with every group of gang-raping goons in motion pictures, Julia’s attackers of course have one remorseful participant who is “not like the others” and ends up as the weak link turning on his “more despicable” compatriots. As much as “Julia” tries putting forth a presentation of being edgy and different, it cannot help being stereotypical and predictable.
Ashley C. Williams is very good as Julia, but only when the film allows her to be. The performance requires Williams to convey Julia’s evolution mostly without dialogue, yet the costuming stifles her capacity to visibly emote by constantly covering her face with hair, scarves, and dark sunglasses. Excessive shots of Williams walking, staring blankly, and riding escalators to trendy Icelandic music sung in Japanese fast become tediously exhausting.
That “Julia” attempts a rape-revenge thriller not pandering to salacious interests or wallowing in gory depictions of sexual brutality is admirable. But whatever it is trying to say about female empowerment is not effectively communicated through vibrantly colored slow-motion sequences set to classical music. “Julia” muddles its message, and overindulges in thematic excess.
Review Score: 40