Avenged (2013)

They took her body. She’ll take their souls.

Writer: Michael S. Ojeda
Director: Michael S. Ojeda

The tl;dr one line synopsis for Avenged (aka Savaged) really sounds like a stinker: “Murdered deaf girl is possessed by an ancient Indian spirit and takes revenge on her killers”. It’s bound to be an awful piece of exploitative, braindead torture porn; that’s what I was expecting, but I was wrong.

The story begins with Zoe (Amanda Adrienne) driving through the desert. When she stops to help a native American she’s set upon by the local racist thugs. These proceed to kidnap, rape and torture her. Eventually they decide to dispose of her but (rather improbably) fail to ensure she’s completely dead. Her body is then inhabited by the spirit of a famous native warrior who has also has a score to settle. The two of them proceed to take out the thugs. Meanwhile her boyfriend Dane (Marc Anthony Samuel) arrives in town searching for her; since he’s black, he’s also seen as fair game by the thugs.

The rape-murder-revenge story is hardly new and the Indian spirit spin doesn’t really add much directly. What makes Avenged work is an unusually smart script and some impressive direction

Despite appearances this isn’t simply another revenge driven torture party. Yes, there are some very unpleasant scenes, especially in the first part. That’s necessary to ensure our sympathy with Zoe when she turns Fury, but her killings in the second part are handled in a relatively restrained way (well, apart from a few intestines…). And the characters – even the villains – behave intelligently.

Although it’s not obvious from the start, the driving force behind the story is the relationship between Zoe and Dane. As the film progresses Dane’s refusal to give up on Zoe becomes an increasingly
powerful emotional centre which feels solid rather than sentimental fluff. It also leads to to a compelling final scene between the two.

There’s also a strong theme of treatment of minorities. As well as the native American setup we have the interracial pairing of Zoe and Dane. I’m also guessing that this theme was at least in part the reason Ojeda made Zoe deaf mute.

Acting is also fine, with Samuel as Dane and Rodney Rowland as bad guy Trey especially impressive. Direction is generally excellent, especially in its use of colour, but every so often Ojeda seems to get a little carried away. Parts of the film seem overly and inappropriately influenced by music videos.

So there are flaws and perhaps more gore than I’d like, but Avenged surprised me. Overall it – appropriately – defied my prejudices against the subgenre. It’s a really engaging film, far more subtle and intelligent than I expected.