Director: Sarah Daggar-Nickson
Writer: Sarah Daggar-Nickson
Stars: Olivia Wilde, Morgan Spector, Kyle Catlett
When we first meet Sadie (Olivia Wilde), she’s vigorously working over a punching bag prior to dressing up, throwing on a wig, and paying a visit to a small suburban home, where the Strand family lives. Andrea’s expecting her, but Sadie is actually there to see her abusive husband, Michael. Sadie informs him that he’s to sign over the house to his wife, give her 75% of his assets and leave. He’s balking, of course, at which time she punches him in the throat. In the very next scene, Michael is seated at the dining room table, bloody and bruised, signing the necessary paperwork to comply with Sadie’s demands.
It’s the best scene in A Vigilante, setting the tone for the rest of the film. Through flashback, we learn that Sadie is a domestic abuse survivor herself and has pledged to save others in similar relationships, sort of making her a female Equalizer. But A Vigilante goes for a different approach. Numerous abusers indeed receive the bloody beat-downs they richly deserve, but the viewer only sees the aftermath of her retribution.
That might disappoint the yahoo crowd, but despite the film’s title, writer-director Sarah Dagger-Nickson obviously has a different agenda. The film is just-as-much about Sadie trying to come to terms with her past. She once had a family, which was torn apart by her husband (Morgan Spector), leaving her physically and emotionally devastated. Though she managed to escape, Sadie can’t actually move on until she confronts and holds him accountable for what he’s done.
Anchored by a bravura performance by Wilde, A Vigilante isn’t the usual action-fest one expects from the genre. But even though it ventures to some dark places, Sadie’s a fascinating character and the circumstances leading her to vigilantism are believable, not-to-mention disturbing. The more we learn about her, the more we appreciate the results of her handiwork. However, one narrative misstep is when she finally faces her husband. The film does so many things right that it’s a shame Sadie’s briefly reduced to being stalked through the woods by your standard-issue psychotic spouse.
Until then, A Vigilante is a smart, realistic spin on the classic revenge thriller. Sadie is empathetic and likable enough that her actions feel more than justified. Though light on the mayhem one usually expects from the genre, there are still enough audience-rousing moments to make it enjoyably vicarious viewing.