Running Time: 95 minutes
Director: Matthew A. Brown
Cast: Ashley C. Williams, Tahyna Tozzi and Jack Noseworthy
WRITTEN and directed by Matthew A. Brown, Julia is a vicious revenge thriller that attempts to confront rape and male-dominated society through the eyes of a self-destructive young woman. Stylistic at times, this uneven film packs in some powerful themes as well as some difficult-to-watch imagery in just under ninety minutes, making for an engaging film that unfortunately crumbles under the pressure towards the end.
After being drugged, beaten, assaulted and left for dead in a manner reminiscent of Twin Peaks’ Laura Palmer, an already shy and timid Julia (Ashley C. Williams) is emotionally destroyed and withdraws from the world around her. Constantly looking over her shoulder and ducking away in a sweaty, graffiti-riddled bar, she soon discovers a radical new way to channel her pain.
Under the watchful eye of a new street-wise mentor, she undergoes a radical method of alternative therapy designed to help rediscover her sexuality and find a sense of empowerment in a male-dominant society. Playing them at their own game. she flaunts her femininity towards egotistical sexual predators, luring them into darkened alleyways and candle-lit bedrooms in order to humiliate them in a way that destroys the very core of their masculinity.
However, this practice comes with a code, and one rule dictates that revenge against her aggressors is strictly off the table. But when one of the men responsible for her agony tracks her down in a moment of guilt and panic, she finds her vengeance all too consuming, going rogue in the process. The film may be part revenge thriller, part body horror, but the overarching theme in Julia is one of sexual abuse and the ramifications it has on a person’s life. Much of the film is told from Julia’s perspective, with Ashley C. Williams giving a solid performance as someone carrying the weight of the world of their shoulders.
Quiet and reserved in many scenes, her reactions are communicated through body language, with her stoic and guarded facial expressions doing much of the talking in place of dialogue. It can make for tough viewing at times but still manages to keep you engaged for most of the film.
Many of the film’s darker sequences however seem to lose sight of the gender and sexual politics the film strives so hard to build upon, particularly in scenes where Julia invokes these therapeutic methods on her unsuspecting prey. Many of the men she seduces are given little to do other than eventually scream in pain, leaving you to wonder if these victims are truly worthy of their eventual fate or just in the wrong place at the wrong time. There’s no question that some scenes are designed to make for uncomfortable viewing, but as she changes from meek and mild surgical assistant to stone-cold killer, you begin to question whether Julia transformation is a believable one.
In an attempt to give the film an overall villain, the final act tries to conjure some wicked flair in order to bring some resolution to the plot. However, this rape-revenge story suddenly turns into a cultish nightmare, but reaches this cloak-and-dagger conclusion in a manner that’s not at all organic, with only a few all-too-brief flashbacks along the way that hint towards any sort of subplot brewing behind the scenes. It goes for the “Scooby Doo” ending, somewhat diminishing the already powerful and unsettling ideas that have come previously.
It may be easy to write off the film as a cover version of the iconic video nasty I Spit on your Grave, but Julia owes plenty of stylistic debt to many of those Asian film delights that have snuck their way into the west since the turn of the millennium. Julia’s nihilistic new outlook and gothy wardrobe change are a fitting nod to Park Chan-Wook’s Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, while some of torture scenes attempt to invoke the nerve-chilling and squeamish nature Takashi Miike’s psychological slow-burner Audition. The pulsating techno soundtrack and the neon glow of New York City’s Chinatown mimic some of the pomp and vanity that comes with Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive and Only God Forgives, although Julia doesn’t come to close matching the hypnotic atmosphere of either.