“Julia is ultimately hollow, and says nothing that Ferrara and Zeirchi didn’t say better thirty years before.”
The titular character (Ashley C. Williams), a cosmetic surgeon’s nurse, is a shy withdrawn figure, a ‘born victim’ who is invited to the apartment of Piers Malone (Ryan Cooper) a wealthy surgeon’s son, on a supposed date. He spikes her drink with Succinylcholine, leaving her conscious and aware but completely paralysed, and ropes in three friends to join him in gang-raping her. Afterwards, they leave her beside the river as the tide is rising to drown, but one of the rapists, Adam (Brad Koed) overcome with remorse, revives her with an injection of adrenaline.
Julia survives, but doesn’t go to the police; instead she takes to drinking in sleazy bars and is recruited by Sadie (Tahyna Tozzi) for an unorthodox regime of therapy administered by Dr Sgundad (Jack Noseworthy), which involves ‘taking our power back in a physical way’ – ultimately by castrating and killing men (presumably rapists) although specifically not the men who’ve assaulted her. But Julia finds that part difficult to stick to – especially when Adam, still plagued with guilt, comes looking for her.
Like Franck Khalfoun’s 2012 remake of Maniac, Julia has an excellent, highly atmospheric score (here provided by Frank Hall), and like Khalfoun’s film it portrays New York bright-lit wasteland where it’s always possible to kill someone in a gruesome and protracted manner without anyone seeing, much less intervening. The big problem with Julia, unfortunately, is the same as with the Maniac remake – it feels very much like a story from the 1980s, and very much of that time, that’s been transplanted to the present day.
Julia dismisses the idea of going to the police pretty much out of hand; you get the impression that writer/director Brown wanted to get the rape and its immediate aftermath out of the way ASAP in order to make way for the ‘therapy’ plot. What does she do? She goes on the internet, looks at a forum for rape survivors, reads a couple of posts of the ‘the cops said I was asking for it’ variety and that’s it. While a terrifying number of rapes doubtless still go unreported out of shame or worse, it doesn’t convince. Later we’re told Julia was molested by her father and then slut-shamed for it by her mother, who blamed her, but it comes much later in the film – too late to counteract the feeling that the real reason she doesn’t go to the police is that if she doesn’t, the film won’t have its plot. This might have been believable in a film set in the 1980s, where attitudes to cases of sexual assault were notoriously Neanderthal – Abel Ferrara’s Ms.45/Angel of Vengeance or Meir Zeirchi’s I Spit On Your Grave both spring to mind, but it feels a lot less convincing in 2015. (And, as a side note, the female protagonists of both those films had considerably more urgency when it came to seeking redress.)
Similarly, Julia begins a sexual relationship with Sadie during the film, even though there’s never been any indication she’s anything but straight – this too is reminiscent of clichés from the ‘80s, where women who’d been subjected to sexual assault or domestic violence were commonly depicted as turning to same-sex relationships. In fact, as Carol Ann Davis points out in her essay ‘Reality Check’ [http://www.carolannedavis.co.uk/page3.html] there’s no evidence to support this. Maybe the idea was to show Julia exploring her sexuality as she gains confidence from Sgundad’s ‘therapy.’
And – without going too far into spoiler-ville here – the film’s concluding act of violence just came across as pointless and stupid, a cynical piece of weakly-motivated designer nihilism bolted on to make A Point, much like the ending of Eden Lake.
There are some good things here. Williams and Tozzi give superb performances and their relationship has genuine charm (above reservations aside.) The music’s blend of minimalist tonal shifts and pounding techno is highly effective in imbuing the city with chill, uncaring hostility; it looks great and does a good job of evoking a night-time milieu of sleazy late-night bars and clubs. But behind its glossy surfaces, Julia is ultimately hollow, and says nothing that Ferrara and Zeirchi didn’t say better thirty years before.
Director: Matthew A. Brown
Starring: Ashley C. Williams, Tahyna Tozzi, Jack Noseworthy, Ryan Cooper, Brad Koed
Release date: DVD 7 September 2015 (UK)
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