There’s a reversal in “Reversal,” and it’s the power of Mexican helmer J.M. Cravioto’s English-language horror pic to reverse the viewer’s decision to stay seated in the theater. This abysmal thriller, in which a captive woman escapes and then makes a deal with the man who was holding her, seems to have far more interest in imagining violent scenarios (against women, mainly, but also men) than in dramatizing them or investing them with suspense. A Sundance berth seems spectacularly generous for a film that would even make for a lame selection on VOD. IFC Midnight has picked up the rights.
After a camera-phone prologue (returned to and elaborated throughout), we find Eve (Tina Ivlev) in chains, although it’s not long before she hits her captor, Phil (Richard Tyson), with a brick and unshackles herself. Not so fast: Phil is holding other women in separate houses. “I’m the only one who knows where they are,” he says, his injuries having barely diminished his jones for a smarmy taunt. “Killing me, you’re killing all the rest of them.”
A bargain is quickly struck: Eve will take Phil to the hospital if he brings her to the other women. This leads to a series of complicated decisions — who should Eve rescue first, the girl who’s closest or the girl who hasn’t eaten in a week? — that the film sets up only to shove to the side. There is little psychological complexity, or even morbid wit, as the two of them drive through the night. These aren’t characters so much as they are chauffeurs, shuttling audience members to various Grand Guignol destinations.
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Along the way, Phil, whose growl suggests Nick Nolte on the rebound from laryngitis, doles out clues about how Eve became imprisoned in the first place. For some mysterious reason, he keeps mentioning her boyfriend, Ronnie, played by Kris Kjornes (son of the co-screenwriter Keith Kjornes, to whose memory the film is dedicated).
The movie is sparing with the details surrounding the apparent sex ring of which Eve has been a part. Phil tries to flatter her by telling her that she fetched more money than the other women (“You’re different. You’re special”). He also hints that some of the others are, by now, too unstable to save, a point the movie grotesquely illustrates as it proceeds from house to house. One captive impales herself after being freed. Another, when we meet her, has been muffled with a face guard; she has reverted to some sort of animal state and also feels perversely protective of her captor. Eventually Eve joins forces with the relatively stable Lea (Bianca Malinowski).
The poverty of imagination extends to the script-by-numbers dialogue: “What is this place?” “Somewhere you don’t want to be for very long.” And later: “You have no idea what you’re dealing with. Not even close.”
Byron Werner’s lensing equates murk with edginess; the images are indeed sometimes so dark that you want to shout for a touch-up. The cross-cutting during a climactic confrontation involves a totally senseless shift in perspective.