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First Look Review - Avenged

The body of a murder-rape victim is possessed by a vengeful Navajo spirit.


Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Michael S Ojeda

Starring: Amanda Adrienne, Tom Ardavany, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Brionne Davis


Avenged is like nothing else you will see this year. Actually, scratch that, it is entirely possible that you’ll watch films that share its gory survival horror elements, films that may have a rape revenge narrative, and perhaps even flicks that have a detailed supernatural narrative; but all at the same time, tightly tied up in the same grue splattered, dust worn package? Unlikely. I rarely read up on screeners before viewing, so going in to Avenged I was completely blind, and as the dark Navajo patterns of its narrative unfolded I was taken aback, battered by the film’s diversity and ultimately spirited to a state of horror bliss. I urge you to do the same; to watch the film before reading too much about it. Perhaps before venturing further, as this review will necessarily contain spoilers.
Imagine if, in Psycho, after being shock-killed in the shower by Norman Bates, Marion Crane came back to life as a zombie, an undead who then gets possessed by the vengeful spirit of Mrs. Bates. You’re still not even close to the orchestrated chaos and imagination of Avenged.
The story begins with sweet deaf mute Zoe (Amanda Adrienne; brilliant, heart-breaking, terrifying), embarking on a road trip across state to meet her boyfriend Cody (Brionne Davis). The sun-bleached, widescreen vistas of the desert shrink to the grotty confines of a barn when Zoe is captured on the road by a group of Navajo hunting red necks, who subsequently torture and rape her. The violence in Avenged is deeply unpleasant (I had to turn away, and I own an I Spit On Your Grave t-shirt), but never gratuitous; we are given Zoe’s ordeal only as a bill that she will repay with grisly vengeance later. As Zoe escapes (tearing skin against barbed wire; the effects -a mix of practical and cgi- are really good), we assume we’re up for another rape revenge movie, albeit one photographed and acted with a degree of quality largely absent from the sub-genre. But then Zoe is stabbed in the back by one of the hillbillies, and buried dead. We’re less than 20 minutes in; what happens next?
Beginning as a road movie, switching lanes into rape revenge territory, Avenged then takes another gear shift as Zoe’s body is discovered by a Navajo spiritualist who, after binding her maggot infested wounds, brings back Zoe to life. Problem is, the vicious ghost of an Apache warrior manages to sneak in to her body too, possessing Zoe, and determined to enact revenge upon the town for their historical brutality towards his Native American brethren. And thus, as Zoe contends with her possession, the revenge and the visible deterioration of her body, the violence and bloodshed continue, while poor Cody obliviously searches the town for his missing beloved.
The scope of Avenged’s horror is notable in itself, but what is truly laudable is how seamlessly writer/director Michael S Ojeda manages the various segues into different tones and pitches; using the lexis and grammar of different exploitation genres to create something entirely of itself. The potential sui-generis bizarreness of Avenged is sold by the emotive truth of the film; even though circumstances are fantastical, characters behave in a way that is convincing, and their raw sentiment is always evident and real.
And then, in the final moments of the film, another lurch into diverse generic territory; one that called back to Zoe’s disability, and caused an unfamiliar salty discharge to emit from the eyes of this hardened horror fan. Beauty as well as the beastly, horror along with hope: Avenged has it all.




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