I’ve become warier of films dealing with a social issue. Not in that “trying to force it down our throats” way that awful people have problems with. No, it’s more along the lines of how they’re going to handle the issue. I’ve said before that a weird form of dehumanisation can occur, reducing a person into a cause, with only the appearance of a human being. Sometimes films try to be balanced and others, like A Vigilante (2018), hide it in the subtext of the film.
And for all its revenge thriller overtones Vigilante is a film about a social issue.
Meticulously moving from town to town, Sadie (Olivia Wilde) aids the victims of domestic abuse by breaking their abusers. A former victim of domestic violence, Sadie had dedicated her life to helping those like her, while she hunts down her missing survivalist husband (Morgan Spector).
The plot is thin on the ground. It’s easy to see Vigilante as a series of set pieces with little connection beyond theme. Sadie moves from town to town, helping before moving on, almost like a Western. The final confrontation feels less like a crafted third act climax, and more random happenstance tacked on to tie some loose plot threads together.
But with this minimalist plot, director Sarah Daggar-Nickson crafts a compelling, slow-burning film that drags you in. Another director could have easily made this a fast-paced action film. Daggar-Nickson, however, takes a slow, methodical approach, building a visual narrative that is a perfect example of style to create substance. The pacing is almost done with a metronome and a Largo rhythm. Low on dialogue, we don’t even find out Sadie’s name until one-third of the way in. Yet we know this character, we know her story, we’re told it visually before we’re told it verbally. It could easily have been a silent film, and it would still convey the story.
Often strong female characters end up being little more than supercilious badasses, but Wilde’s Sadie is a complex character that can be best described as having a public persona and private life. This makes her feel real. Despite lacking a character arc of sorts, we can accept Sadie as a three dimensional human instead of a stock character riddled with clichés. She teaches herself the skills she needs, pushing herself constantly.
Like I said above, this film examines domestic violence through the subtext. You could easily watch Vigilante and just see it treated like a MacGuffin for Sadie. That misses so much of it. Cinema does have an image of domestic violence that ignores much of the reality around it. Vigilante doesn’t. It shows that toxic masculinity isn’t unique to any single demographic, that a mother can inflect the worst abuse on her children. It doesn’t show the violence either, everything is out of frame, hidden away from public viewing.
Despite a straightforward plot, A Vigilante is a good movie. Though given the subject matter I won’t say enjoyable.
Dir: Sarah Daggar-Nickson
Scr: Sarah Daggar-Nickson
Cast: Olivia Wilde, Morgan Spector
Prd: Allison Rose Carter, Ambyr Childers, Andrew Corkin
DOP: Alan McIntyre Smith
Music: Danny Bensi Saunder Jurrians
Runtime: 91 minutes