There are few narrative archetypes more skillful at audience manipulation than the revenge story. If you handle this style of story the right way, you can have the audience eating out of the palm of your hand – and if you’re clever enough to manipulate its variables, you can use the revenge story to challenge the audience and their ideas about justice and the worth of revenge. Bound To Vengeance aspires to the latter style of manipulation but the results reveal the challenges and dangers of tampering with the revenge story template.
Bound To Vengeance begins in media res with Eve (Tina Ivlev) turning the tables on her captor Phil (Richard Tyson) and escaping from the cellar prison where she has been kept as an abused prisoner. As she is trying to get out she discovers that her captor has a number of other girls in a similar predicament, stashed all over the city. Eve decides to forego traditional revenge for a rescue mission, forcing Phil via noose and gunpoint to guide her around the city to find the other women. Of course, Eve’s plan doesn’t go smoothly and there will be many surprise plot reveals before the night is over.
You have to give Bound To Vengeance points for its sincere desire to reinvent the revenge movie template: the idea of starting with the captive’s escape and revealing everything during the mission guarantees both plenty of suspense and plenty of surprises. Unfortunately, the execution of this plan doesn’t live up to the inspiration and Bound To Vengeance ends up being the kind of movie that falls apart the moment you start to seriously think about it.
For starters, Bound To Vengeance asks you to accept a lot in its basic setup: that Phil would be so easy to overpower, that the traumatized Tina would undertake a mission of mercy rather than call the cops, that Tina would instantly be comfortable with wielding a gun and killing bad guys, etc. It’s also the kind of film that will suddenly have characters get dumb to further the plot: for instance, a scene where Tina walks into a setup by two other characters will have you yelling at the screen, particularly because she sees one of the attackers skulking around behind her before the attack happens.
It doesn’t help that the film overextends itself when it tries to set up some a ring of villains beyond Phil, all of whom are thinly-drawn misogynists who have a bizarre kidnap/slavery scheme that is as implausible as it is poorly explained. The third act also relies on a series of surprise plot reveals that don’t really work: one is too cartoonish in its manipulation, one is blatantly obvious in how it is setup and the third is given away well before it happens by too much foreshadowing via dialogue and cutaways to home video footage that pop up too often throughout the film.
On the plus side, Bound To Vengeance is skillfully made and acted in a way that might keep you distracted from all its narrative missteps. Director J. M. Cravioto goes for an aggressive pace – the film is 79 minutes, with credits – and shows a sense of craft with the frequent few suspense/violence sequences. He also gets a lot of mileage out a throwback electronic score from Simon Boswell and impressive night photography by Byron Werner that uses colored lighting to atmospheric effect. In front of the camera, Ivlev gives a heartfelt, suitably intense performance as the heroine and Tyson has the dark charisma necessary to make his underwritten character genuinely menacing.
In short, Bound To Vengeance is an ambitious but muddled attempt to reinvent the revenge movie in a pseudo-feminist way. It’s brutal enough to cater to the exploitation audience but not developed enough to have staying power.
Blu-Ray Notes: This title recently made its debut on blu-ray via Scream Factory. The transfer does nice work with the frequent night photography and presents the film’s detail and color scheme with nice clarity. Both 5.1 and 2.0 lossless stereo tracks are provided: the 5.1 was used for this review and it offers a suitably immersive sonic experience, particularly in its use of music. The one extra included here is a trailer.