The forgotten James Wan movie. James Wan is rightly one of the biggest names in horror, and deserves to be seen as much more than simply a single genre director. He has since has success in other realms and will presumably continue in that vein, but his first foray outside of the genre is nonetheless a violent and grim story of revenge which has just as much in common with Saw as it does with the 70’s films it seeks to emulate.
Based upon the book by Brian Garfield (in name and barely anything else only) which is a sequel to his novel Death Wish, this film follows a Nick – a wealthy (I want to say lawyer) man with a perfect life heading to the wrong part of town with his son to get some gas. Unfortunately for all concerned, a local gang is initiating a new member in the area and they rob the gas station, killing Nick’s son. We get scenes about how legal justice never works – a la Death Wish et al – and Nick takes the issue into his own hands. Normally, the protagonist would get his revenge after leveling up his Schwarzenegger and ninja stats and the movie would end with a hard rock credits sequence. Where Death Sentence is more interesting, more honest, closer to the source material, and ultimately more brutal is where it plays revenge as an unending cycle – you hurt me, I’ll hurt you – you stab me, I’ll shoot your wife – you have oil, I’ll airstrike you into oblivion. It doesn’t end, and no-one wins.
This cycle of revenge is played out with increasing violence and spectacle – we end up learning just as much about the gang members as we do about Nick, and the general tone is one of helplessness – is revenge the only option when justice doesn’t work? Do these events come from nowhere and we can have no answer for or resolution to them? Kevin Bacon gives one of his best performances as Nick, John Goodman hams it up nicely in a small role, and Kelly Preston is still as hot as get out (whatever that means). Wan shows a measured hand in the early proceedings garnering enough of an emotional core for us to care about what happens, before allowing the film to spiral out of control in the second half. The action is fast, the violence is grueling, and overall the film offers entertainment and intelligence (if not insight) in a sub genre not known for much more than a vigilante killing faceless punks.
Have you seen Death Sentence? How does it rank alongside other vigilante justice movies? Let us know in the comments!