US | 2014 | Directed by Matthew A. Brown
Logline: A traumatised woman seeks therapy from an unusual source and finds herself embroiled in her own dark quest for vengeance.
Already with a bunch of festival awards under her sweat-stained leather belt, the smell of stolen sex in her nostrils, the throbbing pulse of deep techno emanating from some primal core as her almond eyes like weathered visors widen, the pupils large and oily like the abyss that swallowed her, her lips cracked and moist with the taste of coppery revenge ... This is Julia, the savage beast that once was a woman in the shadows, now a powerful neo-noirish, nightmarish creature of the night that demands to be experienced, large and loud and lasciviously.
“It does not matter that the question here is one of Beauty and not of Evil. We shall see that they come to the same thing. Both beauty and evil are pure appearance posing as absolute being.” Julia (Ashley C. Williams) is a damaged soul, working by day in a plastic surgery clinic, she has the scars of self-abuse on her arm, and following a horror night of gang rape, now the lost gaze of someone in their own private hell. She drowns her pain each day in tumblers of vodka at a local bar and overhears several women discussing a form of extreme alternative therapy.
Sadie (Tahyna Tozzi) approaches her and Julia is introduced to the mysterious Dr. Sgundud (Jack Noseworthy). Through the madness of the doctor's method Julia learns to tackle her pain head on. No tears will save these hyenas. But in order to conquer her crippling condition and reclaim the power her attackers stole from her there are strict rules.
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
With several shorts under his belt writer/director Matthew A. Brown tackles his debut feature with style to burn. This is arguably one of the most impressive I’ve seen in a long time, exuding a dark sensuality, Julia is a ferociously brooding piece of Euro-Asia styled cinema. Operating within its own nefarious underworld, the dark corners of a New York seldom seen, it’s a kind of tenebrous adult fable. With nods to numerous cult Asian directors, Takashi Miike, Chan-wook Park, Kim Jee-woon come to mind, and a specific mention of early 70s anti-hero “Lady Snowblood”, Matthew A. Brown layers his tale with the audio-visual richness of David Lynch and David Fincher, and the same attention to detail and precision.
The score by Frank Hall is stunning; a furious electronic creation that threatens to consume the whole movie, but instead amazes with its steady hypnotic seduction. Equally impressive is Hall’s Icelandic counterpart lensman Bergsteinn Bjorgulfsson whose intense colour palette and floating camerawork combined with Hall’s soundtrack make for a mesmerising experience.
But the superb central performance from Ashley C. Williams is the spine of the movie. Having played a supporting role in The Human Centipede, she now commands the screen as the titular anti-heroine. Whereas Tozzi’s sly assassin has an immediate statuesque, feline presence, Williams’ Julia is inexorably sculpted into this slinky predator; both women are like big beautiful Burmese cats with the razor sharp claws to match.
Julia, like Starry Eyes, is part of a fantastic new wave of slick and stylish independent cinema from America that refuses to be grounded in obvious American horror tropes, but at the same time, relishes the fabric of its cult classic surrounds. From the glamour trappings of Starry Eyes' Tinseltown to the gleam of Julia's Brooklyn scalpel, this is the retro-future of the American horror-thriller and it glistens brightly in the dark light of the preying moon.