by Glenn Lovell
There’s little chance that anyone will mistake the Matthew A. Brown indie “Julia” for Fred Zinnemann’s 1977 movie of the same name. Zinnemann’s Oscar-winner is about the complicated friendship between playwright Lillian Hellman and a political activist pal; Brown’s movie tackles a different kind of friendship, between the victim of a gang rape and her leather-clad mentor who, under the guise of salving therapy, instructs her in niceties of payback. Suffice to say it’s more “Ms. 45” vigilante-ism than classic Hollywood melodrama.
The new — and much less interesting — “Julia” opens with dermatologist assistant Julia Shames (Ashley C. William) arriving at a date’s apartment. She already looks shell-shocked, out of it. For good reason: he’s an arrogant jerk who drones on about his rich old man. We are surprised not in the least when he drugs her and invites three friends to take turns. Battered and semi-conscious, she’s dumped in a field, like a sack of potatoes.
Here, Brown asks us to believe that because Julia has such a poor self-image she attempts suicide rather than report the rape and seek medical attention. OK, we’ll buy that. Many victims of sexual assault, sadly, blame themselves. Julia returns to her job (for the world’s most accommodating boss) and takes the “Looking for Mr. Goodbar” cure. In her favorite bar, she overhears three women talking about a “unique therapy” that involves “taking the power back.”
Goth queen Sadie (Tahyna Tozzi) introduces Julia to the therapist who counsels impersonal vengeance, payback that “transcends ego” and will bring “truth and lasting freedom.” What she doesn’t know is that she’s joining a blood cult dedicated to helping the good doctor purge his special mommy issues.
“Julia” is studied and stylish — in a very self-conscious way. Brown employs all the tricks of neon-noir trade: slow-mo, ethereal mist, diffused lighting, endless tracking shots, and — to nail down the obligatory references to Miike’s truly horrifying “Audition” — a Japanese pop song. He also pours on the red stuff as Julia, coached by Sadie, picks up “pseudo-macho corporate types” and sates her castration fantasies. Unfortunately, we’ve seen much of this before, in “Ms. 45,” “Basic Instinct” and other feminist revenge fantasies. So when the newly liberated Julia inevitably bumps into one of her assailants and the impersonal becomes very personal, we’ve long ceased caring.
JULIA ✮1/2 With Ashley C. Williams, Tahyna Tozzi, Jack Noseworthy. Director-writer Matthew A. Brown. 95 min. Rated R (for rape scene, nudity graphic violence)