Thana (Zoë Lund) is having a bad day. Not only did she wake up as mute and socially awkward as she was the day before, but she also has the misfortune of being raped twice, by two different men, in completely unrelated incidents. Wrong place, wrong time… Thana is essentially the John McClane of rape victims.
The double-barreled assault leaves her understandably traumatized, but instead of going to the police or curling up into a quivering ball Thana picks up a .45 and starts wandering the streets looking for misbehavin’ men.
Abel Ferrara‘s Ms .45 has long been considered an exploitation classic, but while it’s often categorized as an early entry in the rape/revenge subgenre only the first half of that is accurate. There’s actually very little revenge to be found here. Instead, the film offers up a violent descent into madness that gives birth to a still mute and even more socially awkward serial killer.
New York City in the early ’80s was a brick and concrete jungle where the streets were lined with a special breed of men whose sole daily activity consisted of nothing more than leering, harassing, and wolf-whistling at the women passing by. Thana and her co-workers face the words and hands of strangers on a daily basis, and Ferrara’s camera catches it all. It’s a man’s world, men are slobs, and Thana has a whole lot of cleaning up to do.
It’s at this point that a rape/revenge thriller would see our viciously maligned heroine face off against successive rapists and killers on her way to the man or men responsible for transgressing against her at the very beginning, but Ferrara and screenwriter Nicholas St. John have something else in mind. A wannabe Lothario attempting to return Thana’s bag? Bang! A sleazy photographer inviting her to his studio for some head shots? Bang! A guy kissing his girlfriend on a street corner and completely minding his own business? Well, you can see where this is going.
The genius here is that while the pieces are in play for a straight exploitation film they’re actually put together in a surprisingly fresh way. The film is essentially free of nudity, and while the two rapes are unpleasant to watch (as they should be) neither is played for unsavory thrills. The style and visual excesses are saved for the acts of violence and can be seen in the staging, overhead kill shots, and wonderfully profane costume choices (namely the one pictured above). The film’s final minutes are a fairly glorious affair too and feature the use of a far from subtle faux-phallus to wonderfully (and intentionally) ironic effect.
This was Lund’s feature debut (under the name Tamerlis), and while she has no real dialogue in the film the role still requires some emoting. It requires more than she can deliver unfortunately, and while any victim of such horrendous violence automatically earns sympathy it’s squandered through a performance that seems to equate mute with mentally challenged. To be fair, the script isn’t interested in making Thana into a righteous avenging angel anyway.
She tells a co-worker early on (via a handwritten note) that she wishes “they” would just leave her alone, but it’s not long before she stops giving “them” the option. She goes from victim to killer, losing more and more loose screws along the way, and while the original tragedy is never forgotten it loses its ability to act as an excuse in record time. The question then becomes what exactly are viewers left with and who should they be rooting for?
Ms .45 is over thirty years old, but it still packs morally perverted punch that will challenge expectations as to exactly what kind of thrills the film should be providing.
The Upside: An escalating descent into madness; economic script with no unnecessary fat or call backs; fantastic final minutes
The Downside: No time to get to know and empathize with Thana
On the Side: Abel Ferrara plays the film’s first rapist.
Drafthouse Films is releasing a remastered and uncut Ms .45 into limited theatrical release starting December 13, 2013.