Our most highly-anticipated movie in what is left of this year is the imminent return of legendary director John Woo (Hard-Boiled, Face/Off, Mission: Impossible II) with Silent Night, his first American feature film since 2003’s Paycheck.
This harrowing tale of revenge centres on a distraught father who witnesses the death of his young son when caught in a gang’s crossfire on Christmas Eve. While recovering from a wound that robs him of his voice, he makes vengeance his life’s mission and embarks on a punishing training regimen to avenge his son’s death.
In anticipation of the film’s theatrical release this Friday, December 1, 2023, we’ve compiled a list of ten relatively lesser-known revenge films that we urge you to check out; all of which are sure to scratch your vengeance thriller movie itch before or after watching John Woo’s latest tale of retribution.
MY FATHER DIE
When it comes to Sean Brosnan’s Southern Gothic revenge tale My Father Die, first time directorial debuts don’t come much stronger than this.
Rooted in “The Playboy of the Western World,” a play that has resonated with Brosnan since childhood, My Father Die serves up a primal, southern noir tale of family vengeance wrapped in a Greek tragedy’s clothes, with a Bayou setting that gives the film a certain freshness and rawness often missing in the cliché-ridden revenge flicks of late.
My Father Die follows Asher (Joe Anderson) who was physically and mentally scarred as a child at the hands of his brutal and barbaric father Ivan (Gary Stretch). Once released after serving a lengthy jail sentence for the murder of his elder son – who the young Asher idolised – Ivan heads home but hasn’t allowed for the effect his twenty years behind bars have had on Asher, who has spent the time of his father’s incarceration festering on thoughts of revenge for both his brother and himself.
Questioning and confronting gender narratives by flipping the rape-revenge sub-genre on its head and dismantling the problematic notion that revenge somehow makes you whole, Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli’s unflinching feminist revenge fable dissects gender politics, selfishness, and abuse of power whilst exploring the complicated nature of trauma within families.
Sims-Fewer delivers an uncompromising central performance as Miriam, a woman on the brink of divorce who returns to her hometown in the hope of finding solace in the comfort of her younger sister and brother-in-law. But one night, a tiny slip in judgement leads to a catastrophic betrayal, leaving Miriam shocked, reeling, and furious. Believing her only recourse is to exact revenge, Miriam takes extreme action, but the price of retribution is high, and she is not prepared for the toll it takes as she begins to emotionally and psychologically unravel.
Next up is Finnish filmmaker Jalmari Helander‘s (Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, Big Game) intense historical actioner, Sisu which debuted in the Midnight Madness section of the Toronto International Film Festival. The film went on to take home the Best Film, Best Actor (Jorma Tommila), Best Cinematography (Kjell Lagerroos) and Best Music (Juri Seppä, Tuomas Wäinölä) awards at the Sitges Film Festival.
Written and directed by Helander, and starring Jorma Tommila as the titular character, Sisu takes place during the last desperate days of WWII, when a solitary prospector (Tommila) crosses paths with Nazis on a scorched-earth retreat in northern Finland. When the Nazis steal his gold, they quickly discover that they have just tangled with no ordinary miner. While there is no direct translation for the Finnish word “sisu”, this legendary ex-commando will embody what sisu means: a white-knuckled form of courage and unimaginable determination in the face of overwhelming odds. And no matter what the Nazis throw at him, the one-man death squad will go to outrageous lengths to get his gold back – even if it means killing every last Nazi in his path.
Cabin-in-the-woods horror movies are a dime a dozen, with most following a typically familiar plot, so it was a pleasant surprise to come across one that brought something really unique to this particular sub-genre. Rather than your typical movie about a group of teens heading off to a lake house for the summer, Shawn Linden’s latest shocker, Hunter Hunter tells the tale of a family that’s made the conscious decision to settle down out in the wilderness to try and make a decent life for themselves, regardless of what the wild might throw at them.
Starring Camille Sullivan, Summer H. Howell, Devon Sawa and Nick Stahl, the film begins with a rogue wolf returning to a remote part of the woods where a fur trapper (Sawa) and his wife (Sullivan) and daughter (Howell) live. As the patriarch of the family takes it upon himself to head off to hunt the beast to protect his family, the mother and daughter are left to fend for themselves in fear of the knowledge that the furtive predator could disrupt their peaceful existence at any moment.
Avoiding all the typical trappings of cabin or creature in the woods movies, Linden dissects this seemingly closely-knit family unit that’s struggling to make ends meet and pushing various elephants in the room under the carpet with well-intentioned white lies and deceit. At the same time, it represents a coming-of-age – and uiltimately revenge – story for the mother as long-dormant instincts surface when she’s forced to hold the fort whilst her husband is away. To explain anything else would do the film a disservice so suffice it to say that you’re in for a gripping -albeit grim and gruesome- treat which features one of the best female performance in a horror film in years, and also by far the most unexpected and shocking climax this writer has seen in film in a very long time.
Writer/director Paul Andrew Williams’ (London to Brighton) fifth feature centres on the titular characer (played by Neil Maskell) who mysteriously returns home after a 10-year absence to seek revenge on those who double-crossed him all those years ago. Like his animal namesake, he is a beast, but he is also a father who deeply loves his son and will do anything to ensure that he has a bright future, with the latter forming the black heart of the film.
On the surface, it might sound like another stock vendetta yarn, and it does follow that route at first, but trust us when we say it quickly takes a road less traveled; there are no vicarious thrills to be had as vengeance is brutally doled out. It’s a cold and upsetting study of violence with Williams inspiringly blending elements of the slasher movie as well as echoing both Clint Eastwood and Shane Meadows – think Dead Man’s Shoes meets High Plains Drifter and you’re about there.
Williams and his exceptional cast have crafted a bar-raising take on the genre that both grips and terrifies. Make no mistake, this Bull has horns.
Next up is Coralie Fargeat’s human-hunting horror Revenge. This savage film – which went down a treat when it premiered at Sundance – was the directorial debut of Fargeat, who also wrote the screenplay.
Starring Matilda Lutz and Kevin Janssens the film follows three wealthy, middle-aged CEOs – all married family men – who get together for their annual hunting game in a desert canyon. It’s a way for them to let off steam and affirm their manhood with guns. But this time, one of them has come along with his young mistress, a sexy Lolita (Lutz) who quickly arouses the interest of the two others… Things get out of hand… Left for dead in the middle of this arid hell, the young woman comes back to life, and the hunting game turns into a ruthless manhunt.
BAD DAY FOR THE CUT
After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, Bad Day for the Cut received extremely positive reviews. Critics praised the film’s impressive originality, comparing it to Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin.
Bad Day for the Cut comes from Irish director Chris Baugh and follows a farmer who sets out on a journey of revenge when his mother is murdered. The film is a hard-hitting and dramatic revenge tale showing the lengths a regular man will go to avenge the death of his mother. It’s also pretty gory at times and escalates into wondrously violent territory towards the end.
Carlota Pereda’s strikingly bold and ominous feature adaptation of her award-winning 2018 short film of the same name, Piggy is a far cry from pretty much any other revenge movie this writer has seen.
Written and directed by Pereda, and starring Laura Galan, Piggy takes place in the sweltering summertime of rural Spain, centring on Sara (Galan), a teenage girl suffering perpetual bullying from her peers whilst also an outsider on the home front, internalising her feelings. One day, Sara’s usual solo dip at the local pool is disrupted by the presence of a mysterious stranger in the water and an exceptionally gruelling bout of abuse at the hands of three girls. But, in a strange twist of fate, along the way home Sara witnesses her bloodied tormentors being kidnapped in the back of the stranger’s van. In the light of these sinister events, Sara must decide whether to cooperate with the police and parents’ questioning about the kidnappings, or take her own, unbridled path – all the while discovering the power of desire and belonging, and the distinction between revenge and redemption.
In our next pick, Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) has to adapt to an exciting and terrifying new way of life when he is fused with a computer chip called Stem. The chip is planted in his brain and in one simple command it can control the entirety of Grey’s body, giving him the strength and power to do almost anything he wants.
From director Leigh Whannel, Upgrade is what you get when you let one of the creators of Saw and Death Sentence combine the two to create a dazzling fusion of futuristic, violent revenge. It’s equally as sophisticated as it is gloriously gory, showcasing a visual display that seems impossible on its measly $5 million budget. You’ll feel every punch and love every second, eager to see Grey put a grisly end to those who have wronged him. From its hypnotic and pulsing soundtrack to its unbelievable moments of exquisitely choreographed combat, Upgrade is stylish as hell and an example of a film that can wear its inspirations on its sleeve and still succeed as an excellent addition to an overflowing genre.
THE CORPSE OF ANNA FRITZ
First time feature writer/director Hèctor Hernández Vicens used to write for a Muppets style kids TV show in Spain and here we find him relating a pitch-black tale of a group of youths violating a corpse. Whilst that switch in style came as quite a surprise to this writer, it came as an even bigger surprise to discover that his debut feature is loosely based on the real life case of a mortuary worker who violated a cadaver which awoke from a catatonic state mid-coitus. Pretty freaky subject matter I’m sure you’ll agree.
The film confidently barges its way through more than the odd taboo barrier but the debauchery never feels explicitly gratuitous. The corpse coitus scenes are certainly pretty hard to stomach but they are disturbingly engrossing and it’s clear that this film was never intended as a foundationless excuse for torture porn as, once we get past the necrophilia scenes, the audience isn’t exposed to any more particularly excessive or unwarranted violence and bloodshed. The whole thing unravels into a deftly executed little horror film and there’s a finely tuned moral compass throughout with the characters’ principles and trustworthiness put under scrutiny, much akin to The Disappearance of Alice Creed with hues of the Scream franchise.
The Corpse of Anna Fritz is certainly as harrowing as they come in terms of its subject matter and won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Having said that though, the early necrophilia scenes are handled deftly and more than worth stomaching because the aftermath is to die for.
Silent Night opens in theatres in the US in 1 December, 2022 whilst in the UK it will release on Sky Cinema on December 23.