For the 2019 Fantasia Film Festival, I had the opportunity to check out Jovanka Vuckovic’s feature film debut, RIOT GIRLS. Written by Katherine Collins, the film centers around two rival gangs who go to war after a mysterious disease has wiped out all the adults. The film stars Alexandre Bourgeois (Severity), Munro Chambers (Turbo Kid, Knuckleball), Ajay Friese (The Order), Madison Iseman (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), Paloma Kwiatkowski (Bates Motel), Evan Marsh (Shazam!), and Jenny Raven (Black Mirror).
RIOT GIRLS is best described as follows: “Scratch (Paloma Kwiatkowski) and her girlfriend Nat (Madison Iseman) fend for themselves with a band of friends and family in an alternative, mid-90’s, post-apocalyptic world in which the adult population has been decimated by a deadly plague. When Nat’s brother Jack (Alexandre Bourgeois) is captured by a rival gang led by the devious jock Jeremy (Munro Chambers), Nat, Scratch and the lovable new member of the community Sony (Ajay Friese) set out to save him. The three young punks now must brave enemy territory and face off against an armed-to-the-teeth squadron of fascist jocks sporting letterman jackets and a whole lot of squarehead hatred.” (Fantasia Film Festival)
What I loved so much about this film was the immense amount of female badassery, especially from our leads, Scratch and Nat. This isn’t a story about damsels in distress, it’s about two women doing whatever it takes to save their friends in the face of imposing danger. Katherine Collins weaves a tightly knit narrative that fosters female empowerment while also shining a light on the dangers of classism. The film is also a study on how quickly people can turn when chaos rules, especially when an unknown apocalyptic occurrence occurs. Bringing forth the story to the big screen is that of director Jovanka Vuckovic who blends different genre styles together for an amusing, albeit bloody and violent descent into a town on the brink of destruction due to teen rival war gangs. Vuckovic does a superb job of bringing the story to life with a mixture of comic-book style framing and high energy action.
What really sells the movie, though, are the performances. Munro Chambers, a Canadian favorite, once again proves the depth of his talent in his performances. If anyone makes a good villain, it most certainly is that of Chambers whose character Jeremy is both delightfully charming and sadistically menacing. However, the heart and soul of the film rests on the performances of Paloma Kwiatkowski as Scratch and Madison Iseman as Nat. Scratch is incredibly rough around the edges wih her “Fuck you” attitude and punk rock demeanor, but we do see hints of vulnerability as the film progresses. Meanwhile, Nat is more grounded in reality and through a series of unfortunate circumstances, is eventually able to find her strength. However, neither one is ever the victims in their own story, they are fighters who possess more fortitude than any of the thugs they come in contact with.
Overall, RIOT GIRLS is a powerful depiction of women kicking ass against the backdrop of male entitlement, classism, and a post-apocalyptic mid-90’s setting. It’s a film that defies genres, though it’s easy to see Vuckovic’s roots in some of the more violent moments. To me, the film is a cross between the retro feel of Turbo Kid and the over-the-top violence of Battle Royale, making it an entertaining film that horror fans are sure to love. RIOT GIRLS will be in theaters and On Demand September 13.