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Olivia Wilde’s A Vigilante Gives Us a Quiet Yet Brutal Female Revenge Story

Wilde gives a devastating performance in the domestic abuse drama.

The revenge tale is a genre as old as storytelling itself. Literature, film, and popular culture are filled with tales of wronged heroes who have lost everything they hold dear. Who have been betrayed by those they trusted. Who pick up a weapon and plan to brutally take vengeance from those who wronged them. The stories endure because there is something innately satisfying about the revenge story. Life can be brutally unfair, so when we’re presented with a story about someone balancing the scales, we immediately feel for them.

A Vigilante is a stark, simple tale of a woman with a mission. When the film opens, we see Sadie (Olivia Wilde in a career-best performance) donning a wig and disguise. She slips into an innocuous home where she is quietly welcomed by a woman with a broken arm. The woman’s abusive husband comes home, and Sadie calmly demands that he transfer his home and assets to his wife, before leaving them for good. The man tries to attack her, before she quickly and calmly disarms him. Moments later, bloody and beaten, he caves to her requests.

But Sadie is no superhero, and this isn’t Atomic Blonde or Kill Bill. There are no witty quips or stylish, fashionable exits. Sadie returns to her cheap motel room, bloody, bruised, and raging. There’s a devastating austerity to her vengeance, one that is artfully captured by writer-director Sarah Daggar-Nickson.

As the story bounces back and forth in time, we learn that Sadie has escaped a brutally violent and abusive marriage. After losing everything, she sets out as a one-woman protection business, punishing abusers and helping survivors escape. She has zero support system, taking little money and often accepting payment in food. She has no weapons, just her wits, a beat-up Krav Maga book, and an endless supply of rage.

She shares scenes with other women at a domestic violence shelter, and we hear their stories told in unflinching close-ups. This is a film about the violence that men perpetrate on women (although the film features female abusers as well), yet the focus is not on the violence itself, but on the survivors. Daggar-Nickson doesn’t shy away from showing women raging furiously or paralyzed by mourning. And the effect is far more devastating without the exploitation of seeing these women abused. The power comes in their storytelling.

Pop culture is filled with brutal, violent revenge fantasies starring men. But female revenge stories are a unique beast. They are often exploitative, gratuitously showcasing the sexual violence and abuse that spurs the heroine on her journey. Or they are tongue in cheek, winking at the camera amidst bullets flying. They are rarely afforded a nuanced take on vengeance.

A Vigilante offers a stripped-down, authentic tale of a woman finding her own power, and struggling to help other women. It’s a quietly powerful take on the bloody banalities of vigilantism, and one that sticks with you. But it’s not for the faint of heart.

A Vigilante is now available on SVOD.

(image: Saban Films)

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Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. She currently lives in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband and two poorly behaved rescue dogs. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.