Genre filmmaking staple, and Fantastic Fest regular, Ernesto Díaz Espinoza has been working with Marco Zaror for years. With each succeeding film, the two have been crafting yarns meant to be a little more serious than their B-Movie homages and send-ups from the glory days of VHS. Even if, like us, you’re a fan of Espinoza (check out our review of Bring Me the Head of Machine Gun Woman here), the Dark Sky trailers that precede this, his fifth feature, don’t give a lot of confidence. Yet one need not worry, this is not the pinnacle of Espinoza’s career. It’s an opportunity to let Marko Zaror be a badass, again.
These days, there are very few legitimate action stars, and, moreover, those who convincingly trade blows with their fists in lieu of a six-shooter (well, he’s pretty adept at using that too). Tony Jaa, Jet Li, hell, even Schwarzenegger at times make their bones in plenty of films known more for their kick-ass factor, and less about the story. The narrative is simply the means to action overload. With Marko Zaror, it’s basically a martial artsploitation film and he is a visual delight, bar none.
Dancing on the faces of deserving baddies, this tale of a one man vigilante story on a quest for redemption is a little underwhelming, even so far as to point out Espinoza (who is in a bit of a creative rut) more or less lifted the intro to A Clockwork Orange just to be able to have Marko Zaror cartwheel to bone-crunching delight. Kiltro, Mirageman, and Mandrill, wouldn’t be half as appealing if it weren’t for Marko Zaror with his rapid fire fists and a vicious roundhouse. But Redeemer is not entirely all arial acrobatics followed by groan worthy send offs. In fact, Noah Segan makes an appearance as a wannabe drug lord trying to open up shop in Chile (and also a producer and script contributor apparently – maybe they had a good time at Fantastic Fest over the years). He brings some levity to the film and kind of detracts from Zaror’s stoic delivery.
Credit has to be given to the story which tries to take some creative deviations from a well-worn plot, including, new for an Espinoza film, an omniscient narrator. But per usual, when Zaror gets to fighting, people start dying, quickly. Not 5 mins in, and there are some truly painful looking hits that prove why Zaror is one of the top five marital artists of this generation.
As “the Redeemer”, he has assumed a role of a divine Avenger, yet even the innocent, and those who can’t fend for themselves are not what they appear. That twist makes the Redeemer’s choices difficult. And, shining a light on the “killing people you think are bad” mentality, does he get to decide what is right and wrong just because he carries around a small alter and an assortment of tiny Saints? Well, because he is the Redeemer, the answer is yes. Anyone who protests gets an outboard in the face, seriously.
The action scenes are not just jaw-dropping and brutal, but take a lot of unique and impressive liberties with the visuals. For instance, the camera may be following Zaror down the hall as he floats into a room on the right. You get a sense of the action happening, and even without seeing it, you know he’s kicking ass. This is brought home when you see whatever nameless villain, who was getting pummeled, come flying through the wall…but now the Redeemer has his gun. It’s really quite inventive and fun, especially the plot twist towards the end.
It almost goes too far down that Western road, replete with an Oceanside brawl reminiscent of numerous Kung fu films. But there is more vulnerability to Zaror’s character than seen previously – it doesn’t make it good, just entertaining. Then again, that’s what the talented Espinoza brings to each of his films, however, this just doesn’t work that well outside of the festival circuit (Fantastic or otherwise) as it does in it. Sadly, while the filmmaker is willing, the film is weak. It never gets above lukewarm, so thank God for the clenched-fist brutality of Zaror.