Fantasia Review: In Jovanka Vukovic’s RIOT GIRLS, A Love Story With A Body Count
It’s a “bittersweet cocktail” indeed as the official Fantasia Festival summary for director Jovanka Vuckovic’s new road thriller, Riot Girls, elucidates. Darkly comedic, wry and plentifully violent with a lively pulse thanks to its soundtrack, the film is fully loaded with adventure and exceptional performances from its young cast, and a cute pug.
Set in an alternative 90s period where a mysterious anomaly has eradicated the world of adults, Vuckovic’s dystopian suburban tale introduces Nat (Madison Iseman) and Scratch (Paloma Kwiatkowski), two girlfriends on the road scavenging for items. Their domain lies within the East side of Potter’s Bluff, a rural township divided opposite its authoritatian West side, annexed by the Titans, a self-styled regime of toxic teenage jocks who rule any, every and all, coming and going.
They all reside at the same camp with Nat’s brother, Jack (Alexandre Bourgeois) who helps their camp survive off what he can steal. One day, a chance meeting with a lone drifter named Sony (Ajay Friese) and ditching a Titan transport van after narrowly escaping a previous arrest by Titan guards, compels Jack’s own curiousity about the van’s contents. He’s caught by two armed titans and taken alive, and word soon gets back to the camp, forcing Nat, Scratch and Sony to spring into action.
Their long journey commences, between stolen varsity bikes and sporting a cool set of wheels, followed by a major tragedy and the capture of Sony’s sister, Caine (Jenny Raven). Meantime, the West’s own autocratic dictator, Jeremy (Munro Chambers), has his own afflictions to deal with, including setting the example of what it means to be a “Titan” – often mistaking aspects of fear for tropes of strength and respect. That resolve gets tested often in this narrative and if Nat, Scratch and Sony can’t get to the high school fortress in time, then Jeremy has no qualms about stipulating who is truly in charge.
The mysterious adult-killing plague takes a backseat for the majority of the film as it precedes the events of our main story, although we do see a few elements of this throughout for coherence. Nevertheless, the story isn’t about trying to find the answers long after the damage is done. This is about teenagers and children trying to survive and thrive in a downtrodden landscape where virtually all productivity is dead. It’s “The Walking Dead”, only you’re actually dead if a creepy grouping of varsity jacket-wearing douchebags decides to have its way with you.
This nearly what happens in a pivotal moment during their journey when Scratch pulls out a big gun and gruesomely goes to town on a trio of Titans guarding a checkpoint. The moment later serves as a reference point for bitter conflict between Nat as she’s playing a card game, and Scratch who is ever vigilant and worried for Nat’s safety and their sanction. The two only share one kissing scene in the film – some may take issue with that, though it takes nothing away from their clearly visible relationship. Scratch is Nat’s knight mohawk-and-leather-clad armor and she’ll kill the first poor bastard who makes her world and anyone she loves in it, uneasy.
Compared to Jeremy and his cohorts including enforcer, Todd (Darren Eisnor), wannabe douchebag Devon (Evan Marsh) is the beta version of everything Jeremy is, and he is only alive one reason Jeremy explains later in the film. Thanks to the fraternal brocode Jeremy enforces as Titan law, the amount of peer pressure Devon suffers from compels him to prove himself, so much so that he commits an unspeakable act. By the end of the film, however, it was a hard pill to swallow seeing how things played out in terms of comeuppance.
Turbo Kid and Harpoon star Chambers makes as much of what he can work for the film as Jeremy, the oldest kid in the west. His afflictions are more than what he reveals willingly and by all accounts, play integrally into how he carries himself for the despot he is next to Todd. Among the film’s supporting protagonists, Bourgeois’ Jack stands tall and tough with potential leading man status one day, and I reckon we’ll be seeing him more of him in future projects.
Any action and particular death scenery Riot Girls offers is bound to deliver a good serving of the red stuff. It doesn’t get too gory to the point of it being a horror, but between cratering skulls, bullets ripping holes in faces, throats getting slit and blades and crossbow arrows tearing into bodies, consider yourself warned. It’s a feasibly violent affair in Riot Girls with villains that wholly get what they deserve…well, most of them…
–That last point may be worth more forethought if you can suspend disbelief some. Not all justice gets handed down in this film, and despite its high note outro punk rock with an upbeat tempo, it feels like it ended in a way it shouldn’t have. But, that’s just me.
The film definitely runs high on energy and constantly moves in some way or another that it almost never feels pedestrian, and it also comes bearing a ‘love conquers all’ feel to it that ties in to Nat and Scratch and their struggle to work through their differences. Theirs is a romance worth cheering for though, adding tons of heart with a great supporting cast on hand that makes Riot Girls, for what it’s worth, a riot!
Alexandre Bourgeois, Munro Chambers, Ajay Friese, Madison Iseman, Paloma Kwiatkowski, Evan Marsh, Jenny Raven
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.
Streaming Sleepers: Jovanka Vukovic's RIOT GIRLS Rage On Prime Video | Film Combat Syndicate
March 1, 2023 @ 6:30 pm
[…] I’ll leave a link here to my Fantasia review for good measure as well as a trailer below to help get you acquainted, and then get on over to prime and watch or bookmark for planned viewing. […]