Who knows why it took so long for Michael S. Ojeda’s spiritual remake of The Crow to hit wider audiences, but after two long years of festival screenings and showcases, Avenged (formerly Savaged) has become a valuable example of perseverance and gritty determination. It’s not often that I’m completely taken aback by visual brutality, but credit Ojeda with knocking each redemptive slaughter out of the park when it comes to confident, 80s-style effects work. You’ve got to admire a filmmaker who relies on good ol’ fashioned practical gooeyness whenever his violent vixen screams her wicked war cry, and Avenged showcases some of the most creative bodily chaos I’ve seen in a good while. It’s I Spit On Your Grave with a Native American twist – talk about reparations!
Amanda Adrienne stars as Zoe, a deaf woman en route to a new life with her patiently-waiting lover. While driving along a desolate stretch of roadway, she witnesses a horrible crime being committed by a grungy group of brothers who have a knack for killing Indians – your typical redneck rebels. Knowing they can’t let Zoe walk away, Trey (Rodney Rowland) and his brothers tie her up and keep her as a prisoner, and they carry out their own perverse form of torture until a decision has to be made. Leaving Zoe for dead in a sandy grave, an Indian man finds her buried corpse and attempts to bring her back to life through spiritual magic – but something else comes back with Zoe’s soul. Something that thirsts only for revenge.
In a world where females are constantly fighting for equal representation both on and off the screen, Avenged offers Amanda Adrienne the chance to shine in a role that would be pegged as masculine nine times out of ten. Yes, it takes supernatural powers to make Zoe a formidable foe against the rugged male miscreants, but Zoe’s psychotic warrior turn out-machos any of her perverse captors. Ojeda isn’t just letting Adrienne knock down a few male brutes for feminism’s sake, and he ensures that there’s substance to Zoe’s tide-turning warpath. Her survivalist spirit is never questioned in life, and after almost escaping, we’re rooting for Zoe to kill every last thug who laid a hand on her. Adrienne is as badass as they come, like a ticking time-bomb with only justice on her mind. Bloody, head-chopping justice.
The spirit of Avenged is bold, brave, and boisterously bloody, never backing away from exceptionally creative means of dispatch that equate to Zoe’s own horrifying experiences. Ojeda proves that budget has nothing to do with quality horror kill sequences, as the budding filmmaker outshines some of the genre’s biggest budget efforts in recent memory thanks to practical effects that elevate Zoe’s voracity. Doubters of Zoe’s murderous wishes won’t need any more evidence than her very first attack, when she turns a yokel bar into an organ-covered tomb for three local scumbags. Eyes are stabbed, bottles are turned into daggers, and intestines are ripped out. Like, a mile of intestines that could extend across a football field in comedic fashion, all while Zoe’s victim screams out for mercy – something we happily know isn’t coming. Gorehounds, Avenged is your shining beacon of hope in a world full of muddled, CGI blandness.
Even with death scenes that would make any Saw film blush, Adrienne steals the show whenever Zoe waltzes on screen. She can wield a bow like Katniss and fight light a professional brawler, but her heightened levels of emotional intensity allow for more involved experiences that are far beyond weightless violence. Zoe doesn’t care how she’s serving up her revenge, and all she wants is for every last ruthless baddie to pay for what they did. We’re forced to watch Zoe cry out for help while she’s still alive, and we witness her bleak struggle for survival. We watch as Zoe rips her arms through barbed-wire cuffs fastened to a rusty bed, we see her flesh tearing as salvation remains only a few blood-curdling shrieks away, and we hang our heads when she’s cut down with freedom in sight. In other words, we’re wholly invested. Adrienne is a fearless warrior, a righteous reaper, and a dominating female berserker who really digs into everything Zoe represents – painful, deserving justice.
While the practical decapitations will keep horror fans giddy, other special effects do leave some technical beauty to be desired. There are times when Avenged feels infinitely bigger than a few dusty shacks, but there are also effects that bring Ojeda’s ambitious effort back down to indie-level roughness. Bigger action elements (a tumbling car and fiery explosions) receive an animated makeover in light of obvious budgetary restrains, but Ojeda does his best to work around these rushed elements. There’s a very Wild West vibe that’s instilled by barren set-pieces, in a Bad Turn Worse (or any “off the beaten path” thriller) kind of way, and a lawless atmosphere expands what little budget Ojeda has left after the sand turns red – but certain “imperfections” are an unfortunate reality.
Avenged represents an enthralling survivalist nightmare that dances with the paranormal and establishes powerful motifs of finality, but that’s not to short-change Ojeda’s killer instinct. Watching Amanda Adrienne slash her way through a team of low-down, dirty, despicable outlaws provides the regular amount of genre chills (and her love story is easily forgotten), but her entrancing power becomes this warrior’s biggest strength. Those who fear that Avenged is just another rinse and repeat slasher wannabe will find an Apache undertone that carries a historic vibe, and those nervous about low-budget cheesiness will have their doubts disbanded at the first sight of death. Put on your war paint, grab your tomahawk, and put on a poncho while you’re at it – things are going to get awesomely messy.
Playing out like The Crow meets I Spit On Your Grave with a Native American twist, Avenged is frenzied, ferocious, and a bloody good revenge story.