The first sign of trouble is the credits. In addition to the director using an alias — not necessarily a bad thing, as talented helmers like Kogonada and Daniels can attest — whoever wrote “Measure of Revenge” chose to go uncredited. It doesn’t take long to see why: A mess from start to finish, this would-be thriller about a mother seeking vengeance (Melissa Leo) never comes close to raising the pulse but does raise more than a few eyebrows along the way. That it stars an Oscar winner only makes the whole thing stranger — viewers are likely to spend more time wondering how she came to be involved in such a shoestring production than sympathizing with her character.
The plot, such as it is, concerns vaunted stage actor Lillian Cooper (Leo) grieving the unexpected death of her fresh-out-of-rehab son Curtis (Jake Weary), a semi-famous musician whose death is ruled an overdose despite all evidence suggesting he hadn’t relapsed. Unconvinced by the official story, Lillian seeks out his former drug dealer (Bella Thorne), first to threaten her with a rather large knife, then to ask her for help finding out who actually supplied Curtis with the rare amphetamine that killed him.
The high-stakes amateur investigation that follows leads to lines like “they call him the gardener because…he slit a guy’s throat with gardening tools” and, even more ludicrously, spectral visions of Lillian delivering theatrical monologues to an audience of one: herself. Some are from Shakespeare, others the Greeks, all are impossible to take seriously.
“Measure of Revenge” was directed by Peyfa, who presumably went with an alias to keep his true identity as far removed from the project as possible, but the biggest offender here isn’t the direction. Far worse are the washed-out, smartphone-esque cinematography and incoherent screenplay, neither of which are done any favors by a series of jarring edits. “Measure of Revenge” lacks the feel of a professional production, which wouldn’t be so strange if it didn’t star one of the most respected actresses of her generation. That juxtaposition serves as a constant distraction.
Though the mix doesn’t offer the sweet release of unintentional humor, it does occasionally verge on a kind of surrealism that has to be seen to be believed. This is never truer than when Lillian is out on the streets of New York, moments that appear to have been shot guerilla-style and are so lo-fi they look like something out of David Lynch’s “Inland Empire.” Were that intentional, it might even be impressive.
Suffice to say that Lillian exacts more than just a measure of revenge, with the film getting more violent the longer it goes on. These scenes aren’t any more convincing than the ones that preceded them — from the spurts of blood to the bloodlust behind each pull of the trigger, would-be climaxes feel like bad theater. Leo, to her credit, doesn’t appear to be phoning it in. Her committed attempts to salvage something from the script are for naught, however, as there’s simply nothing to salvage.