Written and Directed by Tara Thorne | 80 min | Screening at Carbon Arc Cinema
A version of this post first appeared on the blog in September 2022 during coverage of the Atlantic International Film Festival — this week the fest having shrugged off that awkward, unloved tag, FIN.
So, this isn’t a proper review on the blog because full disclosure: I’ve known Tara for many years, since I was a freelancer and then editor at The Coast where we both worked. Accordingly, I can’t really review her film without acknowledging the personal connection I have with the filmmaker. There’s no way I could be objective.
Let me instead give you a few, brief impressions: Compulsus is an indie thriller on the bleeding edge of the rape-revenge genre. I can report I really enjoyed it and I’m proud of Tara, what she has accomplished the first time out of the gate.
It’s shot on the neon-lit streets of North End Halifax, where our lead, Wally (Lesley Smith), a poet, hunts dudes who she’s heard (from reliable sources) have abused women with impunity.
She doesn’t kill them, but leaves them broken and bleeding. Her weapons of choice are a bowling ball, stapler, or nightstick, and she ropes in her lover, Lou (Kathleen Dorian), as a willing accomplice while keeping her friends (Koumbie and Kathryn McCormack) in the dark.
The film delivers a deeply satisfying dose of rage, stoking the conversation around what’s appropriate and ethical in a system where women are consistently denied protection from law enforcement or proper justice in assault cases. This while also acknowledging the feelings of powerlessness women commonly experience on the streets of the city or in their ongoing relationships with men. It’s a particular flavour of vigilante thriller, unique but still seeing in its rearview films like Death Wish while deftly tilting that right wing, masculine power trip into something a lot more lefty, feminine and subversive.
That Thorne has chosen to cast a single actor (James MacLean) as all the Bad Men but denying him any close-ups turns out to be more effective and hard-hitting here than a similar technique employed in Alex Garland’s Men.