Review by David Baldwin
Wally (Lesley Smith) is a lesbian who has never been abused by a man. Unfortunately, her friends have, as have many young women they know. Tired of hearing about the pain these women have suffered and the abusers not facing any consequences, Wally starts taking the law into her own hands. As her vigilante tactics become more brazen, so too does her desire for blood.
Watching Compulsus is akin to receiving a shotgun blast to the chest — or in this case, getting the shit kicked out of you. Writer/Director Tara Thorne has composed a picture that is seething with rage. Rage for the women who have suffered. Rage for the shitty men who got away with it. Rage for the complete normalcy of gender-based violence. The fact that this film premieres at Inside Out the same week of the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial verdict is a sheer coincidence (or dumb luck on the part of the programmers), but it makes the story in Compulsus all the more frightening relevant.
I was reminded a lot of the Oscar-winning Promising Young Woman when watching the film, with the key difference being that our protagonist is not going on dates and toying with her prey as much as she is jumping and beating the hell out of them. Thorne takes it one step further by barely even giving the men anytime to speak — she bleeps out their names and frames them (all played by the same actor, James MacLean) mainly from behind, or at least obscured enough that you cannot see their face or make out any of their visible features. It is an interesting stylistic choice that speaks to both Wally’s frame of mind and the singularity of sameness that all of her targets have. Much like in real life, they all swear they are innocent and claim #notallmen. But we all know the truth.
Where I think Thorne falters is in her overreliance on wordless, musical montages. I lost count of how many popped up in the 81-minute film, frequently getting in the way of Wally’s story and her budding romance with Lou (Kathleen Dorian). Both actresses are terrific, giving voice to Thorne’s rage and the moral quandaries that come with acting on it. Though their relationship is toxic, they continue to be drawn together, with the violence only increasing their attraction and passion for one another. And while I appreciated the bisexual lighting, I kind of wish they both had a bit more character development.
Compulsus is a searing, angry film about women taking back what is theirs and the lengths they have to go to do it. While there is an element of fantasy at play, Thorne is honing in on the cultural zeitgeist and the collective experiences women share daily. It is certainly going to ruffle a few feathers, but if you are not just as angry once the collective thesis is spoken in the film’s final scene, then why the hell aren’t you paying attention?
Compulsus premieres at Inside Out 2022 on Friday, June 3, 2022.
The festival runs until Sunday June 5.
For tickets and information, please go to the Inside Out website.