Ms. 45 Review: Justice is Silent

out of 5

One of the more prevalent themes found within exploitation films of the 70’s was that of the female protagonist who, having been the victim of violent or sexual crimes (usually both), is able to not only persevere over her attacks but is able to seek out revenge on those that have wronged her. With his 1981 cult film Ms. 45, director Abel Ferrera took this idea and ran with it, crafting a lead female character that was deeper and more nuanced than the violence against her and sets her on a mission far beyond mere revenge.

The film follows a young mute woman named Thana (Zoe Tamerlis Lund) who, within the first fifteen minutes of the film, is raped twice by two different men on the same day. While the attacks are near pedestrian compared to depictions of rape that film and TV are able to get away with these days, they still serve to be a bit unsettling. It’s during the second attack that Thana makes a noticeable transition and character progression. Through mere facial expressions and some inspired editing, it’s apparent that Thana is no longer going to allow these violations against her to continue. She not only manages to thwart and kill her second attacker, she also goes the extra mile and cuts him up into various pieces, ensuring he’ll definitely never attack her or any other woman again. She also take the man’s gun, a .45 Caliber.

Ms. 45 Review: Justice is Silent
Shortly thereafter, Thana decides to start taking out the chopped up remains of her attacker and leaving them randomly throughout the city. Her first attempt isn’t as successful as she hoped, as a horny passerby sees her drop the bag and runs after her with it thinking she has accidentally left something of her’s behind. As he gets closer with the bag, Thana doesn’t hesitate to take the guy out with her recently acquired handgun. This is where the film show’s Thana’s finalizing her transformation from timid seamstress to angel of death.

Giving in completely to her new found bloodlust, Thana leaves behind her initial meekness and mousy demeanor for a vamped up appearance that aides her as she goes out looking for scummy men that she can take down swiftly with her trusty sidearm. The more she kills, the more she enjoys it. It’s not long before she could seemingly care less whether the men in question have done anything wrong. Their crime is simply being men and in Thana’s eyes that’s a crime fit for death.

Ms. 45 is a film that I have long sought and, thanks to the wonderful folks at Drafthouse Films, I was finally able to see and I must I truly enjoyed it from beginning to end. While it’s never been as known or notable as some of Ferrara’s other work (Bad Lieutenant, King of New York), Ms. 45 is a film that’s always had a fair amount of traction in exploitation film fan circles and the praise is more than well deserved. There’s a surprising wealth of ideas on display, making the film much more nuanced than it’s synopsis might lead one to believe.

Ms. 45 Review: Justice is Silent
One of the strongest elements to me was Thana embracing her beauty as a weapon at her disposal. Even to this day are those that place women in a constant state of blame and shaming if they are dressed sexily or present themselves as anything less than demure. Here Thana uses what those say invites violence to dole out her own violence to those that would assume they can just take advantage of a young lady for the way she looks. There’s also the prevalent theme that men in general, just by purely existing, are a threat to women and should be dispatched of as quickly as possible.

Another strong point of the film is Ferrara’s direction. There’s a life to the New York setting that Ferrara presents that just doesn’t exist in films anymore. The locations feel realistic and at times scary because they genuinely are. Ferrara also had a keen and creative eye, resulting in some camera shots and tricks that elevate the film from its exploitation brethren almost as much as the story itself.

Even with Ferrara’s direction, Ms. 45 just wouldn’t succeed without the incredibly subtle but powerful performance that Lund brings to the character of Thana. Playing the entire film mute would be something that many actors would balk at, but Lund embraces this element of her character and is able to show an unbelievable amount of character progression without uttering a word. Lund’s portrayal is a prime example of less is more and she simply excels at it.

Drafthouse Films has truly done the cinematic world an unbelievable solid by rescuing Ms. 45 from the clutches of obscurity and giving the film the love and attention it so rightly deserves. To further prove this appreciation of the film, Drafthouse is planning to re-release the newly restored and uncut version of the film in theaters across America starting this Friday, December 13th, 2013 (find theater locations here). Drafthouse Films also have plans to bring the film to the Blu-ray/DVD and VOD in March of 2014. Fans of the film should also keep an eye out for a vinyl release of the film’s eccentric and quite excellent score sometime next year from Death Waltz Recording Company.

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