[Popcorn Frights 2022 Review] COMPULSUS
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Violent acts against woman happen every day, ranging from domestic abuse within the supposedly safe sanctuary of the home to men purposely targeting and assaulting women when they are alone and vulnerable. The statistics for crimes against women are mind boggling but these figures probably don’t even paint a clear picture of how commonly these attacks actually happen because too frequently women fear the consequences of reporting the violations. When a terrible crime makes so much noise it cannot be ignored, often politicians (usually cishet white men) make a speech trying to beg men to stop hurting women. But even the speech demonstrates anti-women rhetoric as the speaker must first humanize women for the audience in order for them to give a damn. Usually the phrase “imagine if they were your sister, your mother, your daughter” gets used, which shows women do not matter unless they can be connected to a man. Why can’t we just agree to not harm women because it is wrong? And what happens if someone finally fights back? Playing at Popcorn Frights and written and directed by Tara Thorne, COMPULSUS uses the anger women feel from being constant targets and shows how this frustration goes ignored because too many men want to remain ignorant of how their gender makes the world a dangerous place.

Wally (Lesley Smith) is a performing poet who enjoys her art and living her life, but one night she just does not want to deal with men anymore. Now this call for vengeance does not come about completely unprompted. She fights back against a man who chooses to creep on her as she walks home, but she also knows his story. Earlier that night she heard rumors of how he behaves violently towards women, so to Wally it seems only fair he should suffer at the hands of another person. And this one act emboldens her to continue asserting herself so she does not become just another statistic. First it starts as retaliation for the sexual harassment she receives from strange men on a daily basis. But eventually she starts seeking out men through anonymous tips. Soon the whole city can’t stop gossiping about the invisible vigilante seeking justice for women everywhere. The main plot does not come as anything new as we have Ms .45 and the short-film Dana, both featuring women who get revenge. But COMPULSUS differs a bit because our heroine is not revenging her own rape, but the rape of other women in her community. She does not care if these women are her sister, daughter, or mother. She only cares that they have been harmed.

And weaving into the revenge plot, we also see a love story forming between Wally and Lou (Kathleen Dorian). The two women meet during one of Wally’s poetry readings and after a bit of a false start, they end up dating. Wanting complete honest in the relationship, Wally reveals she is behind the recent string of attacks. So, now Lou must decide to follow the law or believe Wally’s crimes serve a purpose. And the relationship also forces our heroine into more of a quandary because she must choose between what is right and what feels right.

With similar movies like Promising Young Woman and Men, COMPULSUS cannot compare with the production value due to budget, but Thorne’s movie accomplishes a bit more than the other films. The story provides a very small cast with even one of the main characters (Wally’s sister Bev) appearing mostly through phone calls. The small number of on-screen characters also remains limited to just female actresses as the male characters (all played by the same guy) never get a face or even a name. Their anonymity allows Thorne to perpetuate the “all men” theory, but to also not let the other gender get any actual credit. Too often with true crime podcasts, the stories focus too much on the killers so that everyone knows the names of Ted Bundy or Stephen Avery, but so few can recognize the names of Karen Sparks or Teresa Halbach. Thorne does not want to glamorize or even humanize the male assailants and instead lets Wally and all the victims do the talking.

COMPULSUS raises a lot of questions about abuse and the justice system, but also makes the audience determine if violence is an answer to violence. Thorne does not so much want to enter the conversation about crimes against women but wants to create a call to action to show women are tired of talking about it and want to see some actual results. Leaving this film, the audience hopefully will not feel inspired enough to start hurting other humans, but instead will take the final scene to heart and start making actual changes.

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