PLOT: After being sexually assaulted twice in one day, a demure, mute seamstress in New York City's garment district goes on a ballistic spree of vigilante murder.
REVIEW: There's a hell of a lot to admire about MS. 45, Abel Ferrara's forgotten X-rated vigilante-trash-classic. But thanks to Drafthouse Films, a whole new generation of audience will get to see a beautifully restored print of the flick when it hits theaters this December, then DVD/Blu-ray in early 2014. I personally cannot recommend this joint enough, especially to those Ferrara fans who dig KING OF NEW YORK and BAD LIEUTENANT as much as I do. Seriously, MS. 45 is not only a lean, mean, muscular, multisensory snapshot of NYC in 1980 - devoid of excess fat and pat Hollywood trappings - it's also a highly competent entry into the exploitation-revenge subgenre, on par with say a good Charlie Bronson picture, and in my opinion, even more effective than I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. So if that's your thing, go see this movie ASAP!
We open in the seedy part of NYC's garment district, where we meet Thana (Zoe Lund), a shy, porcelain-skinned seamstress taking orders from her boss. Yet what seems like a typical day quickly turns into anything but, for when Thana walks home after work, she's accosted in a dingy alleyway and brutally raped by a plastic-mask wearing scumbag (played by Ferrara himself). As if that weren't traumatic enough for one lifetime, as soon as Thana retreats to her apartment, she discovers a second assailant has randomly broken into her place. She tries to put up a fight, but somehow ends up sexually violated for a second time in about an hour. Driven to the breaking point of insanity, Thana takes immediate action (with a clothing iron no less) and ultimately assumes power in her trusty .45mm handgun. That's right, the embattled mute takes to the streets, strapped-up, trigger-happy, and with every perv-ball and creeper in her sights, goes on a kill-crazy rampage! But how far is too far when it comes to vigilante justice?
I loved almost everything about MS. 45, starting with its technical design. Shot outside the studio system on a shoestring budget of roughly $60,000, this film is a relic of the now extinct New York independent film movement...and the anarchic spirit it embodied. We're in the streets, in the gutters, in real locations...probably shot without a permit. As you can imagine, there's a rawness, a grittiness, an unvarnished charm that only lends to the desired authenticity. No time for the artifice of coverage, elaborate sets or gaudy lighting schemes. Nope, this is on-the-fly filmmaking, which only lends to the naturalistic verite style. It's a focused and self-contained 80-minute movie, no loose ends or silly subplots. It's so simple yet so very effective. It's also pretty damn daring to ask your female lead to give a silent performance!
I also really dug the simple setup of the story, and some of the moral implications that arose throughout. For instance, when Thana first starts exacting bloody revenge, we are right there rooting for her to get her personal justice. I mean, how could you not? However, the line blurs quite drastically later on in the film when Thana starts to legitimately break bad and go insane. She begins to enjoy her moonlight murders a little too much, and even begins blasting mofos that, while certainly shady, don't exactly deserve to die. One dude, after Thana lets him sobbingly confess at gunpoint for a comedic amount of time, turns out to have only strangled a cat. Awful for sure, but worthy of the death penalty? Thana seems to think so, but I won't spoil what actually happens in the scene because, like the films finale, it's quite unpredictable. Props to the late Zoe Lund as well for giving a credible silent turn as a deeply tormented ingénue.
Then there's Freudian subtext of the film. Named after Thanatos, the Greek myth personifying death, Thana comes to represent the human "death drive." As she becomes more and more enthralled by her wicked ways, that very enthrallment starts to lead to her downfall toward the end, just like in Greek mythology. Not only that, Thana, in a weird gender reversal, becomes deeply empowered when, on behalf of this death drive, starts pleasurably shooting men with a phallic weapon. She starts to get off on it. I'm not sure if it's a statement about penis envy, or feminism in general, but it's clear that Thana transmutes into what she loathes...a violent, sexually motivated predator. All of this subtext is visually reinforced throughout, but especially at the climactic Halloween party, when another female character picks up a knife, hikes up her skirt, and holds the blade out from her crotch as if an erect male. No accident, it's a deliberately held shot. What happens then however is up to you to find out!
So yeah, there's a lot to like about MS. 45. I seriously urge you cop a peek at it as soon as humanly possible. It's not just a truly forgotten vigilante street-film, it's vintage Ferrara, populated with the kind of seedy and sordid characters he would later become famous for in flicks like BAD LIEUTENANT and KING OF NEW YORK. It also happens to be just as ballsy, bloody, brutal and brilliant. No joke, I can't recommend the flick enough!