Directed by: Joe Lynch
Written by: Yale Hannon
Sometimes, genre movies will bring you a real unexpected gem.
It’s been something like 20 years since Salma Hayek broke into the US film market with performances in things like Desperado and From Dusk To Dawn and from the beginning it was clear that here we had an actor who could play the fun knife’s edge between action and humor in a movie, skill that unfortunately can be lacking in a lot of actors. (It’s almost hilarious to watch Steven Seagal, among others, try to walk that line.) Sometimes I think she might have never gotten that great action role that she deserved, one where she could show off her acting chops as well as kick ass, instead of being relegated to (some very good turns) as second banana in Dogma or in TV work on 30 Rock or Ugly Betty. There's certainly a host possible reasons, ranging from her gender to her accent (not that that ever stopped Van Damme, Schwarzenegger and Stallone). But I didn’t count on her joining forces with relatively new director Joe Lynch and finding a role she could really sink her teeth into here.
Everly (Hayek) is a woman who, as we find out, was kidnapped some years prior and forced into prostitution by a Japanese gangster. Where? That doesn’t matter, because Everly is suddenly marked for death by the gangster (why is something that comes out in the course of the movie) and finds herself defending her apartment as waves of fellow prostitutes and mob enforcers come after her attracted by the bounty on her head. Meanwhile, Everly is trying to figure a way out of her predicament, possible save the family she left behind and try to escape the clutches of the gangster who enslaved her.
I’m a sucker for what I’ll call the Precinct 13* genre of movies, where someone is being attacked from all sides in a small space, and this movie is a minor gem of that. As the movie goes on, the attacks get a bit more outlandish as waves of villains came at Everly but almost never too over the top. There is one torture section in the middle that does get a bit too much and drags the movie down, but even that’s a piece with how the action scenes in this movie feel fairly realistic; there are stakes here and a real feeling that Everly might not make it out of this situation alive or even whole.
*Yes, I know Assault on Precinct 13 is a somewhat remake of Rio Bravo with shades of Night of the Living Dead, but it’s the best example.
What also helps are the pauses the movie takes time for, where Everly deals with the one living member of the crew that came after her in the beginning, or tries to call her family, or negotiates with the other residents. Lynch and Hannon know how to give the viewer some time to breathe and to allow Hayek to show off her acting chops, and they make the most of those quiet scenes just before the shit comes down again. By the time the bloody climax of the movie occurs and the gangster (played with oily coolness by veteran Japanese actor Hiroyuki Watanabe), we’ve grown to know Everly and the other characters well enough that we’re not just rooting for or against cardboard characters even among almost-cartoonish violence; there’s a real feeling of stakes and rooting interest that elevates a movie like this.
Definitely worth seaking out, Everly is in the iTunes store and the various other download services and is on VOD, depending on your cable system. There is a limited theatrical release on February 27th which I might check out just to see it on the big screen.
2015 Rankings (So far):