Fantastic Fest: ‘Bring Me the Head of the Machine Gun Woman’ Serviceably Guns Down All Our Headline Space
It seems strange that the resurgence of grindhouse pictures that has occurred over the last five years would come on the tails of a heavily produced and advertised film that bombed at the box office. I’m talking about the Robert Rodriguez- and Quentin Tarantino-helmed Grindhouse. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a picture that was so monetarily unsuccessful be so immediately influential. Whereas the duo’s film as if had been almost directly stripped from the 1970’s (if it weren’t for the contemporary talent in front of the camera, it would really be hard to tell) and put through manhandled hell, many other current pictures are more akin to recorded cassette tapes of Grindhouse.
Bring Me the Head of the Machine Gun Woman utilizes that same visual homage to exploitation pictures and applies them to a Grand Theft Auto-inspired story structure about a young DJ in a Chilean dance club forced to find one of the country’s most notoriously accomplished hit-men[woman/persons]. It’s a mixed tape of low budget ’70s filmmaking with the appeal of modern day video game violence and setup, and it’s about as much of a mixed tape of success.
In director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza’s fourth feature film (and first one to not star the martial arts talents of Marko Zaror), he takes an interesting approach to have his more able character be the objective of the protagonist instead of the actual protagonist. Santiago is the DJ for a nightclub of one of the city’s most dangerous criminals (named Che Sausage), and he just so happens to end up going into the restroom at the most non-opportunistic moment, as Sausage and two of his other criminal cohorts follow behind to spill the beans (no gross pun intended) to each other about needing to kill Machine Gun Woman. I guess they figured having this conversation in the men’s room would mean she wouldn’t be able to hear them if she was nearby. Or maybe they just don’t give a damn who hears them.
Unfortunately for Santiago, he does hear them talking, and they do find out he hears them, and he isn’t as good at defending himself as someone in his predicament should be. He is a convincing enough liar though (or a pathetically timid enough individual), that the kingpin gives him the opportunity to find Machine Gun Woman instead of shooting him on the spot. Good thing for Santiago he plays a lot of video games, so he knows precisely what to do.
The film is almost exactly like watching someone else play GTA, and is probably about as fun as that turns out to be. Everything from the character introduction fonts (and bounty value of each person accompanying their name) to the third person view of the vehicles as they drive is an obvious, and deliberate, attempt to make you feel like you’re watching Grand Theft Auto on the big screen. In that sense, the film succeeds, and I can imagine it would play phenomenally well for a hyper-violent video game audience. It’s direct, it doesn’t hold back, and it has only about a seventy-minute running time. It’s too short to be complacent about it being not very exciting, but it’s also too derivative of too many other movies that have come before it since Rodriguez’s El Mariachi and adding only the Grand Theft Auto aspect to the mix; and that aspect loses its appeal after the third proposed “mission” for Santiago.
Bring Me the Head of the Machine Gun Woman is better as a concept than a finished product. There are some really fun elements to it, and the fact that it exists in the same universe as one of Espinoza’s other pictures lends itself to the promise of it playing into something much bigger, and potentially more entertaining. Its title character is someone I would enjoy seeing in another film that gives her more room to do what she does; however, this film feels too much like a serviceable distraction of something to watch if your fingers hurt from stealing too many virtual vehicles for too long. It’s definitely better than stealing actual vehicles, though.
The Upside: Super fast runtime, good title character to work with for future projects, and the fact that it doesn’t ever abandon its visual themes will work well with the right niche audience.
The Downside: Too slight of a movie to feel the need to revisit and, if you are not on board with the Grand Theft Auto element ,it will start to feel tiresome.
On the Side: There is a referential cameo by one of Marko Zaror’s prior heroes that director Diaz Espinoza plan to play with in another project with Machine Gun Woman. The promise of that is worth this less than desirable introductory picture.