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Bound to Vengeance

Shout Factory // Unrated // November 10, 2015
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted December 2, 2015 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

There's a tenuous balance in revenge flicks between the relative illusion of realism and full-blown fantasy, on that typically gets relieved by the antihero being trained in the art of violence: from the military or government, through martial-arts instruction, or by way of straight-up street experience. Their exceptional skills afford the film enough carte blanche to get them in and out of difficult, aggressive situations, so, naturally, maintaining that balance gets trickier when the hero or heroine doesn't appear to have such a background, putting the film's integrity in jeopardy as they traverse the danger. Eve, the slight twenty-something girl in Bound to Vengeance who escapes from imprisonment and leads her large male captor to his other victims by a leash, appears to be one of such people. With her leading the way, director Jose Manuel Cravioto telegraphs a grueling, unflinching, yet half-baked and pulpy display of retaliation against the backdrop of abduction and trafficking in suburban America.

Bound to Vengeance begins with a big move one might expect to come much later on in a thriller about an overpowered, chained-up prisoner, showing how Eve (Tina Ivlev) uses a little ingenuity -- and some conveniently accessible resources -- to flip her harrowing situation into one where she gains control of her captor, Phil (Richard Tyson). Filled with rage, paranoia, and a desire for retribution after learning that she's only one of several known violated female captives, Eve gets the locations of the others out of Phil at gunpoint, deciding to have him take her to each house and individually free them. Thus begins a violent and unpredictable night for the young woman as she carefully monitors her captor's actions, abiding by a plea deal that the two struck over his ultimate fate. Eve soon discovers, however, that there's far more to her situation than a small cluster of ordinary girls like herself being held within a short drive's radius, morphing her evening into one far more unsettling and illuminating than she ever could've foreseen.

Despite the rush of exhilaration as she turns her captor into the captive, the fact that Eve takes matters into her own hands instead of contacting the authorities about Phil and his operation immediately raises a red flag in Bound to Vengeance, leading the events down a road toward disbelief that the film never really exits. Had she been equipped with a "particular set of skills" to bolster her assurance in being able to handle the situation, it'd be easier to go along with her plan to blindly enter enigmatic house after enigmatic house in the dead of night belonging to a imposing man -- injured as he may be -- who has a significant height and weight advantage on her. Like this, as Eve reloads a revolver with countless bullets and yanks him around with a homemade catch pole, the film continuously weakens its credibility in service of shabby revenge theatrics and ensuring that she'll rise up as a heroine no matter the gaps in common sense. Deferring to horror-movie logic only goes so far when a concept's within this proximity to reality.

The house-by-house, victim-by-victim structure of Eve's plan to rescue 'em all could've easily turned repetitive, but that certainly isn't the case once the extent of the surprises in Bound to Vengeance are unshackled. Shrouded in heavy shadows, rusted filth, and stylized lighting like something out of a giallo flick, the night's events take the unnerving concept of imprisoned sex slaves in various states of coherence -- drawing comparisons to Beatrix Kiddo's dilemma in Kill Bill would be reasonable -- and warps them in pretty alarming directions, defaulting to arbitrary shock value and bloodshed. The varied mental states of the different victims become catalysts to the film's brazen suspense, yet their instability feeds directly into tacky exploitation instead of mustering a layer of needed depth; their individual terrors and distorted perceptions of reality recklessly shove them straight into jeopardy upon Eve's arrival. There are sharper ways of racking up a body-count under the circumstances than what goes on here.

Amid the questionable and unpleasant chaos thrives a brave, severe performance from Tina Ivlev as the hot-headed survivor Eve, whose wide-eyed restlessness and fading morality does make one contemplate how far she's physically capable of going to purge the nastiness of her captor's operation. Haphazard flashbacks to home videos and blurred memories of the time around her abduction withhold an evolving mystery for her to discover: a disturbing yet fairly unsurprising twist for the observant that further ties into the terrifying machinations of sex-trafficking, which doesn't really justify all the frustrating jumbling of chronological footage. Unfortunately, the desire to see Eve overcome the odds and force her gravelly villain to face the consequences remain overshadowed by the unlikelihood of her dragging him into a position to do so. Bound to Vengeance ends up being too devoted to midnight-movie vigilantism for the realness of its grim thematic weight and practical concerns, relishing the empowerment without keeping tabs on whether its reach will exceed its grasp.

The Blu-ray:

Video and Audio:

Bound to Vengeance takes place almost entirely at night, in the shadows of seedy houses occasionally bathed in the lights of urban streetlamps and neon bulbs, so it's unsurprising that Shout Factory's 2.39:1-framed, 1080p AVC transfer is a dark, fairly oppressive one. Shadows lean a bit heavy at times and eclipses details at a few points, but that seems appropriate when considering the film's aesthetic, and there are many scenes where the digital photography relishes fine details against the shadows: blood spatter, a heavy chain, tools piled in a ramshackle van. Close-ups offer the bulk of the transfer's more impressive clarity, especially in tussled hair and assorted filth and trauma on skin, which also embrace some of its more absorbing displays of contrast when responding to pools of purple fluorescence and umber light along the streets. Digital grain crops up at certain points in the dark, but it's a mostly clean presentation, and it sees a few moments of brilliance once the sun comes out.

There's a hell of a lot of surround activity going on in the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, which can be both a blessing and a curse for the sound design. Atmosphere is constantly immersive and engaging wherever it can, flooding the rear channels with aggressive ambience to elevate the mood of Phil's locations. That being said, the surround stage also struggles to balance with the thinner center channel, which tends to have merely moderate fidelity: gunshots and bricks connecting with flesh have a deep, fierce impact, but other metallic sounds and scuffles aren't as strong. Dialogue remains fairly audible across the board, though the mumbling of Richard Tyson's character gets drowned out in a few spots. The soundtrack commands a strong presence across the entire stage, though, and the eerie environments are well-substantiated with the full surround activity. In general, a rather solid effort from Shout and IFC. English and Spanish subs are available.

Special Features:

Only a Trailer (1:35, 16x9 HD), as well as a DVD Copy of the Film.

Final Thoughts:

Bound to Vengeance doesn't lack for gusto or ambition, telegraphing a gritty flip on the captive thriller by putting the victim, Eve, in control of her coercive attacker over the course of a tense, brutal evening of locating and freeing his other victims spread across town. A compelling premise, smart independent craftsmanship, and reputable performances never can break free from the weight of the film's loose grasp on common sense, though, marred by questionable decisions made by just about everyone and too many iffy setups in getting the suspenseful conditions to fall into place for Eve to maintain control. Worth a Rental for the sordid thrills and the remnants of a compelling heroine.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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