I could see myself in high school being really into a film like The Retaliators. With the lattice of a revenge thriller, it’s a picture where the highlights are the bloody bits of brutality. I’d probably have the bookmarks all queued up when my horror-loving friends came over so we could wince and salivate over the technical allure.
Had the film been more straightforward in its ambitions, it might’ve been easier to groove on its gore with a nu-metal soundtrack. The general premise revolves around a pastor who has endured the loss of his daughter. He seeks answers within his community and discovers a hideous underground world of violence and terror. That’s not a bad idea, considering the framing of a religious man delving into the pits of hell.
The film loses this intrigue because it meanders about trying to find stuff to do in between the bloody parts. There are way too many subplots and flashbacks crowding what could’ve been a compelling story. Too many layers are placed upon this premise, where it feels like there are flashbacks within flashbacks. The dramatic build-up feels more like melodrama it wouldn’t surprise me if some viewers wrote off the film early as a lukewarm thriller.
There’s at least an intelligent call by making the first scene a tease of a grotesque chase where inhuman figures devour a poor victim. With that promise present, I felt I had to watch until the end. Thankfully, the third act didn’t turn out to be a letdown as there are some great makeup effects and intensity when revealing an underground horde of zombie creatures. Some of the kills are a pleasure, bringing out more of that old-school gore-hound within me.
The ambition is undoubtedly present in this picture, aiming to be a more investigative type of horror, trying to find some semblance to the likes of Seven and Saw. That’s an admirable approach, as there don’t seem to be as many crime thrillers in this age willing to go this wild with a concept or this gruesome with horror. Yet there’s a confounding clashing of genres here. It always felt like, “here’s the thriller drama scene” and “here are the hardcore horror money shots.” Rarely do they connect, and there’s hardly much whiplash to appreciate any twist to the swirling of revenge and zombies.
The Reatliators has more going for it than most B-movie horror pictures. It’s frustrating it doesn’t quite mesh with its thematic grounding and technical expertise. I’d say it’s worth watching for its grizzly climax, with the caveat that you either have the patience of a saint or the wizardry to fast-forward to the juicy bits.