Ms .45

Ms .45 ★★★★★

There's a shot in the final, jaw-dropping sequence in which a character is shown holding a knife in a very phallic manner while death rains all around. It's one of the final shots in the film and it sums up everything that came before it, including the complications introduced by who exactly is holding the knife. Yes, this is a revenge fantasy exploitation film, but that is far too simple a description for what this film is doing.

The introduction of Thana, Zoë Lund's mute protagonist, recalls the opening scene of Repulsion as Thana, along with a group of fellow seamstresses, walks home past several leering men after leaving work and her overly familiar male boss. Her coworkers can fire back against the catcalls, but Thana's inability to speak means she just has to hope the threats don't turn into something worse.

They do, of course, with Thana being raped twice in one day and killing her second assailant - first by hitting him with a glass apple and then by bludgeoning him with an iron. Her muteness means she can't seek help or even official justice for her violations, so she begins her quest for vengeance against the city.

The New York City of the film is the same one inhabited by Travis Bickle. It's a grimy, dangerous place just waiting for a storm to come clean all the scum off the streets. That storm comes in high heels and blood red lipstick. Taking her attacker's .45-caliber pistol, she dispatches a third man chasing her down an alley - though the exact reason he is chasing her is left ambiguous - and proceeds to go on a crusade against men. Some she kills for being sexually aggressive, and some for just being men and as she becomes less particular about her targets, the righteousness of her quest unravels.

Ferrara was still working in a grindhouse mode at this point, and Ms. 45 satisfies the grindhouse requirements, with plenty of violence and sleaze, but Ferrara turns these things back on themselves. The violence is truly disturbing, with the camera close-up on Lund's face so we can witness every bit of her trauma as it happens, and her face continues to be featured, showing her fear and defiance and disgust as things continue. Ferrara gives us a cathartic revenge picture with a sexy poster, but it complicates the events at every turn, taking what could've been a simple sleazefest and turning into a complex examination of the violence women face, and how they can respond to it.

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