by Patrick Bromley
After their scrappy indie debut Dead Hooker in a Trunk and the messy but incredibly confident and well-realized American Mary, it really seemed like Canadian sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska were going to be some of the most exciting new voices in genre filmmaking. But after making two movies for WWE studios -- the lackluster sequel See No Evil 2 and now the prison action film Vendetta -- their idiosyncrasies seem to be vanishing. There is less of "them" in their movies these days, and while that might make their work more commercially viable it's disappointing as a fan of their early promise.
Not that these newer movies are bad. They aren't. See No Evil 2 was, in many ways, an improvement over the original -- deliberate, cool-headed and sometimes genuinely surprising. Vendetta is even better. Though hardly much more than a typical DTV actioner on its face, the movie has a willingness to go darker and nastier than most others of its stock. It's hardly a new classic, but it did win me over by the time it ended.
The inside of a prison is a common setting for action movies. Stallone has gone to prison (Tango & Cash, Lock Up). Schwarzenegger has gone with him (Escape Plan). Van Damme has gone to jail a couple of times (Death Warrant, In Hell), as has Seagal (Half Past Dead, Maximum Conviction). Not much about Vendetta distinguishes itself from the number of other prison action movies or the current crop to DTV action filling Redboxes across the country: it has the washed-out digital photography, the generic locations (here it's Canada instead of Eastern Europe for a change) and a pro wrestler in the cast. While the Soskas are either unwilling or unable to infuse the movie with any of their personal style, they do at least ensure that it's got plenty of personality. That's what makes Vendetta stand out.
WWE superstar Wight cuts such an imposing figure that it's a shame he doesn't actually register more as the heaviest in a film full of heavies. Don't get me wrong, he's a fine actor -- pretty good, actually -- but it so rarely feels like his insane size is much of a factor that he fails to be any scarier than the hundreds of other violent inmates with whom Mason has to contend. While I don't think it's necessarily what the Soskas (nor the screenplay by Justin Shady) intended, it does lead to one of the movie's happiest accidents: by the time we arrive at the climactic showdown between Mason and Lord amidst a full-scale prison riot, Mason is the much scarier of the two. Vendetta is actually about the transformation of a good man into a monster.