Frenzied and ferocious action-sequences but a convoluted and slightly generic story.
'The Villainess (2017)' contains some of the craziest action-sequences in recent cinema, primarily because of the frenzied and ferocious nature of the camera itself. It is used as a tool to put you right in the centre of the violence, often literally putting you in the P.O.V. of our protagonist, and never strays further than a few feet away from any of the killing. As such, there is a claustrophobic and relentless feel to each and every such scene, which don't cut away until away until our lead has finished her dirty-work. Because of this, we don't get to rest until our hero does, instead being breathlessly whisked along from brutal but balletic beat to beat. All of the neck-slicing, blood-spilling, body-piling action feels guttural, given a visceral and grimy sense that only one person can survive. This runs counter to most high-concept pictures of the kind, where glossy, clean framing and shiny, pain-free choreography paint a picture of violence that doesn't really hurt and death that doesn't really matter. While death is depicted as similarly cold and callous here, each life that is taken feels painful and we're always on edge for the few people we care about. It's in both the tight and precise but scrappy and explicit fight-choreography, and subsequent blood-letting, and the down-and-dirty camera-work that the picture finds its footing as an 'in-the-trenches' and 'honest' depiction of despicable work, revenge in high-numbers shown from right up-close and watched with gritted teeth. The strongest of sequences are the opening first-person fight and a phenomenal sword-crossing motorbike chase. Both of these use impressive long-takes and hidden camera-cuts to appear as fluid as possible, with the former being an apparent 'one-shot' until its final moments. The use of small digital cameras allows the frame to go places it wouldn't normally be able, with the audience being transported into a one-on-god-knows-how-many battle or even through the wheels of a moving bike seamlessly, and it allows for a very intimate relationship with the lead and her struggle to survive. The only time a combat scene falls slightly short is in the feature's final movement, with some ever-so-slightly dodgy green-screen sky-replacement honestly looking pretty hokey and reducing the effect of the entire segment. Still, what was achieved on its relatively low budget is undeniably impressive and equally exciting. What isn't as exciting are its slower segments and convoluted, though completely understandable, plot. The contrast of its balls-to-the-wall action with its rather domestic, though still out-there and thematically appropriate, story is quite heavy and isn't always balanced too well. There are times where it feels as though the piece has switched gears entirely, with its initial intentions then coming crashing back down onto its new pace just as you're settling into it. This is conceptually appropriate but it does take you out of the film. As does the contrived plot-device used to inject tension and a proper antagonist in the latter half of the second act. This 'twist' feels as though it comes from nowhere, without the explanation afforded to other sequences of less importance, and is handled with confusion even within the narrative. Still, it doesn't ruin the plot and begins to inject some decent pacing back into the piece. It just feels like most of the picture is, or was trying to be, set-up for this moment but it happens too late for that to be the case, or for it to work successfully. On the whole, there isn't anything that isn't enjoyable about the picture. The eclectic, energetic and exciting action-sequences are a sight to behold and the flick plays with some intriguing themes, as well as having an appropriately 'strange', if slightly generic, story. It is always entertaining, even if it loses its drive and isn't quite as pacy as you'd expect. 6/10
- May 25, 2018
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