'Reversal': Sundance Review

Courtesy of Sundance International Film Festival
This pseudo-feminist revenge thriller has pleasingly schlocky grindhouse spirit but it rounds out of steam

Tina Ivlev stars as a young woman who turns the tables on kidnapper Richad Tyson in director J.M. Cravioto’s second feature

Centered on a heroine (an impressive Tina Ivlev) who’s been held captive by an Ariel Castro-style psychopath (Richard Tyson), low-budget horror-thriller Reversal adds a contemporary twist to the well-established female-revenge genre as formulated by Ms. 45 (1981), I Spit on Your Grave (1978) and the like. However, the spinning top Reversal sets in motion runs out of torque by the end with a meh denouement. A second feature for Mexican director J.M. Cravioto (his first, El Mas Buscado, played only in Mexico), this has enough edgy energy, pseudo-feminism and pleasingly schlocky grindhouse spirit to ensure more midnight bookings at further fests and lure interest from specialist distributors with an eye on ancillary markets.

Handheld cameraphone footage – flashbacked to repeatedly throughout– shows 21-year-old Eve (Ivlev) in happier days, frolicking at a seaside boardwalk with her then-boyfriend Ronnie (Kris Kjornes) and an unnamed young woman (Dylan Thomas) whose relationship to Eve is only revealed later on. In the present, Eve is chained up in the squalid basement of an isolated house in the desert, enslaved by Phil (Richard Tyson), a predatory sicko who abducted Eve and the other girl some time ago.

See more The Scene at Sundance Film Festival 2015

But when Phil comes downstairs to give Eve her dinner, she coldcocks him with a brick she’s pried from the wall, frees herself and chains him up instead. While looking for the keys to his van, Eve finds snapshots that suggest that Phil has many more prisoners at other locations. Still wracked with guilt over the death of the other girl, Eve decides to put Phil in a choke collar and force him at gunpoint to lead her to the others so she can free them too.

Rock Shaink and Keith Kjornes script adds some bendy psychological kinks to curve the otherwise linear narrative road ahead. For a start, several of the highly damaged women Eve tries to free do not react with the gratitude she expects. Instead, her mission of mercy creates a trail of blood as she contends not just with the other victims, but also more men involved in Phil’s sinister sadistic network of abusers. Visiting each new site reveals more horror, levels of conspiracy and degradation. Naturally, this expose of the blackest corners of the misogynistic male soul requires that the female actors wear skimpy shorts, lingerie, and fetish-wear throughout, but then again that’s just par for the genre course.

Tricked up in a good liter of fake blood and copious make-up bruises by the end, Ivlev makes for a compelling central presence, reminiscent of Winter’s Bone-era Jennifer Lawrence with her strong jaw and vaguely trailer-trash affect. But even she struggles to put across some of the screenplay’s cheesier lines, as does the engaging Bianca Malinowski as another victims, who actually has to say, “Do what you gotta do,” to Eve at one point.

DoP Byron Werner (Phantom) has some fun using colored gels and cantered angles to evoke an 80s video nasty atmosphere, as does Simon Boswell'synth and wah-wah peddle-heavy score,  Jorge Macaya’s chop-chop editing also enhances that mood up to a point, but there’s an awful lot of redundancy here in the use of flashbacks, suggesting the quickly shot film didn’t quite have enough coverage to make feature length. A similar visual homogeneity blights the production design, with most of the locations looking like different rooms set dressed with the same, previously used van-load of clutter. Budget and time restrictions might also explain the baffling last scene which barely makes any psychological or even narrative sense.  

Production companies: A Dark Factory Entertainment production
Cast: Tina Ivlev, Richard Tyson, Bianca Malinowski
Director: J.M. Cravioto
Screenwriters: Rock Shaink, Keith Kjornes
Producers: Daniel Posada, Rudolfo Marquez, Alex Garcia
Executive producers: Jai Khanna, Rock Shaink, Alexis Fridman, Katrina Wolfe, Luke Daniels, Jonas Ortega
Director of photography: Byron Werner
Production designer: Adriana Serrano
Costume designer: Cari Avila
Editor: Jorge Macaya
Music: Simon Boswell
Casting: Carla Hool
Sales: Paradigm

No rating, 80 minutes