Captor Roles Reversed in Gritty, Inane 'Bound to Vengeance'

Directed by: José Manuel Cravioto; Runtime: 93 minutes
Grade: C

There's a tenuous balance in revenge flicks between the relative illusion of realism and full-blown fantasy, on that typically gets relieved by the antihero being trained in the art of violence: from the military or government, through martial-arts instruction, or by way of straight-up street experience. Their exceptional skills afford the film enough carte blanche to get them in and out of difficult, aggressive situations, so, naturally, maintaining that balance gets trickier when the hero or heroine doesn't appear to have such a background, putting the film's integrity in jeopardy as they traverse the danger. Eve, the slight twenty-something girl in Bound to Vengeance who escapes from imprisonment and leads her large male captor to his other victims by a leash, appears to be one of such people. With her leading the way, director Jose Manuel Cravioto telegraphs a grueling, unflinching, yet half-baked and pulpy display of retaliation against the backdrop of abduction and trafficking in suburban America.

Bound to Vengeance begins with a big move one might expect to come much later on in a thriller about an overpowered, chained-up prisoner, showing how Eve (Tina Ivlev) uses a little ingenuity -- and some conveniently accessible resources -- to flip her harrowing situation into one where she gains control of her captor, Phil (Richard Tyson). Filled with rage, paranoia, and a desire for retribution after learning that she's only one of several known violated female captives, Eve gets the locations of the others out of Phil at gunpoint, deciding to have him take her to each house and individually free them. Thus begins a violent and unpredictable night for the young woman as she carefully monitors her captor's actions, abiding by a plea deal that the two struck over his ultimate fate. Eve soon discovers, however, that there's far more to her situation than a small cluster of ordinary girls like herself being held within a short drive's radius, morphing her evening into one far more unsettling and illuminating than she ever could've foreseen.

Despite the rush of exhilaration as she turns her captor into the captive, the fact that Eve takes matters into her own hands instead of contacting the authorities about Phil and his operation immediately raises a red flag in Bound to Vengeance, leading the events down a road toward disbelief that the film never really exits. Had she been equipped with a "particular set of skills" to bolster her assurance in being able to handle the situation, it'd be easier to go along with her plan to blindly enter enigmatic house after enigmatic house in the dead of night belonging to a imposing man -- injured as he may be -- who has a significant height and weight advantage on her. Like this, as Eve reloads a revolver with countless bullets and yanks him around with a homemade catch pole, the film continuously weakens its credibility in service of shabby revenge theatrics and ensuring that she'll rise up as a heroine no matter the gaps in common sense. Deferring to horror-movie logic only goes so far when a concept's within this proximity to reality.

The house-by-house, victim-by-victim structure of Eve's plan to rescue 'em all could've easily turned repetitive, but that certainly isn't the case once the extent of the surprises in Bound to Vengeance are unshackled. Shrouded in heavy shadows, rusted filth, and stylized lighting like something out of a giallo flick, the night's events take the unnerving concept of imprisoned sex slaves in various states of coherence -- drawing comparisons to Beatrix Kiddo's dilemma in Kill Bill would be reasonable -- and warps them in pretty alarming directions, defaulting to arbitrary shock value and bloodshed. The varied mental states of the different victims become catalysts to the film's brazen suspense, yet their instability feeds directly into tacky exploitation instead of mustering a layer of needed depth; their individual terrors and distorted perceptions of reality recklessly shove them straight into jeopardy upon Eve's arrival. There are sharper ways of racking up a body-count under the circumstances than what goes on here.

Amid the questionable and unpleasant chaos thrives a brave, severe performance from Tina Ivlev as the hot-headed survivor Eve, whose wide-eyed restlessness and fading morality does make one contemplate how far she's physically capable of going to purge the nastiness of her captor's operation. Haphazard flashbacks to home videos and blurred memories of the time around her abduction withhold an evolving mystery for her to discover: a disturbing yet fairly unsurprising twist for the observant that further ties into the terrifying machinations of sex-trafficking, which doesn't really justify all the frustrating jumbling of chronological footage. Unfortunately, the desire to see Eve overcome the odds and force her gravelly villain to face the consequences remain overshadowed by the unlikelihood of her dragging him into a position to do so. Bound to Vengeance ends up being too devoted to midnight-movie vigilantism for the realness of its grim thematic weight and practical concerns, relishing the empowerment without keeping tabs on whether its reach will exceed its grasp.

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