Written and Directed by: Tony D'Aquino
Starring: Airlie Dodds, Linda Ngo, and Ebony Vagulans
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
Stay Alive or Die Trying
The Furies is yet another riff on “The Most Dangerous Game,” something we’ve quite frankly seen a lot of. But this one is also specifically engineered to twist the iconic premise into a slasher movie, which is a little less common and therefore allowable. It also helps that writer/director Tony D’Aquino goes all-in on both the splatter potential and the subtext, even if the latter might as well be the super-text. I mean, the allusion to Greek Mythology right there in the title conjures up visions of wrathful female spirits exacting revenge on immoral men. You can see how this might be a good allusion for a genre that’s historically exploited female victimhood and female vengeance, often all in one fell swoop.
This one cuts right to the chase in this respect, opening with a shot of Kalya (Airlie Dodds) and her friend Maddie (Ebony Vagulans) graffiting a wall with “fuck the patriarchy.” Following a brief argument about this technically illegal act, Maddie storms off before she’s abducted by an unseen assailant. Kayla--an epilleptic who suffers from frequent episodes--also blacks out and reawakens in a forest. After she emerges from the mysterious black pod she’s been stuffed into, she encounters other women who have also been abducted. They soon discover that masked men also roam the forest, stalking these women as prey. Kayla’s seizures also reveal another horrifying wrinkle: apparently, the orchestrator of this sick game has also implanted cameras into their eyeballs, giving their audience a first-person glimpse of the mayhem.
While The Furies isn’t explicitly meta, it’s fair to say D’Aquino has taken the subtext of slashers--a genre often predicated on punishing female bodies for our entertainment--and made it the text. It’s a movie where women are hunted not merely for sport but primarily for the amusement of a mysterious audience, and the POV wrinkle (while sadly underutilized) subtly highlights and briefly redirects the prominence of the male gaze that’s long defined the genre. In this one, the perspectives go haywire: not only does the audience see things from Kayla’s perspective, but her seizures somehow allow her to see through the eyes of the assailants. While I wish this was explored more than it is here (it mostly amounts to a plot device that allows Kayla to uncover clues about their whereabouts and purpose), it adds an interesting dimension to the film’s gender politics and underscores audience complicity in warping violence into entertainment. These guys are real sickos, you think, before you realize you’re technically partaking in the violence.
D’Aquino is happy to oblige, too, by serving up some absolutely disgusting gore. Slasher violence is often calculated to thrill audiences in the same manner as a magic trick: you watch someone lop off a limb or a head and start wondering how they pulled it off. The Furies is much more confrontational in its violence, though. “Unflinching” doesn’t even begin to describe it, not when D’Aquino subjects you to the sight of a masked man gruesomely hacking off a woman’s face in a messy, prolonged display of effects wizardry. Usually, I’d marvel at the practical effects, but I don’t know: this is one of those cases where you feel like you’re watching something that’s legitimately squeamish. This is the case for most of the gore in The Furies, which is less crowd-pleasing and more revolting, perhaps in another attempt to confront the splatter movie audience’s bloodlust. This is what you paid to see, after all, so let’s really make sure this is what you want: women tortured, bludgeoned, and hacked into utter oblivion by masked lunatics in agonizing detail.
Just when it feels like The Furies is going to full of unrepentant, wanton violence, D’Aquino brings another interesting wrinkle into focus by revealing that each masked killer (dubbed “Beasts” by the gamemasters) has been assigned to protect one of the girls. Failure to keep his “Beauty” alive results in his head immediately splattering like a watermelon at a Gallagher show. The girls are quick to pick up on this, which only complicates matters once some of them realize they can just off each other, thus eliminating the men stalking them. It’s another clever angle that highlights real-world gender dynamics that often pit women against each other to survive, and it introduces some genuinely compelling drama to this story. Suddenly, Kayla has to forge alliances and be on-guard against the other women, which leads to some genuinely harrowing and shocking moments.
Much of the drama revolves around the relationship Kayla forges with Rose (Linda Ngo), a neuroatypical girl who struggles with the concept of friendship. Kalya becomes her protector, but Rose has a warped perspective of how this relationship works. This--and Kalya’s growing realization that she’ll have to go to extreme lengths to survive this game--are what ultimately make The Furies more than just an empty splatter display. Dodds is awesome as Kayla, whose condition has made her tentative in life, the one who’s needed protection rather than the one doing the protecting. She grows into her own during this ordeal, by the end of it possessing a righteous fury that leaves you hoping for a different type of sequel that finds Kayla hunting down the cabal of assholes orchestrating this demented game. I don’t know that we’ve ever had a sequel where a final girl returns to become the slasher, but I’d be down for that.
At any rate, I’ll be on the lookout for whatever D’Aquino does next. The Furies is an auspicious feature debut, helmed with a sharp sense of rhythm and panache. It glides effortlessly on D’Aquino’s dynamic camerawork, which sleeks over the rugged, nasty gore just enough to land in that slasher movie sweet spot. The Furies is revolting and gripping all at once, and the meaty subtext should leave even the most jaded viewer with something to chew on. This isn’t just another slasher movie, which is a triumph in and of itself at this point in the game.
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