Coming Soon: Avengement (2019) - Reviewed

Jesse V. Johnson returns with his second action film of the year with Avengement, a crown jewel of full tilt boogie film making.  Featuring his frequent collaborator, Scotts Adkins (Universal Soldier: Day of Reckonin) in a furious central performance and dozens of sequences of visceral, bone crunching violence, this is a must-see affair for any aficionados of the genre.  

Cain (pun intended), on a furlough from prison to see his dying mother escapes from his guards and carves a bloody path of retribution through the heart of London.  Told through a series of flashbacks with unreliable narrators, Johnson and Stu Small's scriptshas a unique format that translates exceptional well to the screen.  Most of the story transpires in a dingy pub, in which a handful of criminals are held hostage by Cain, with both sides recounting the series of events that led to them the present.  Adkins, who typically shines when he's a supporting character is finally given the perfect leading role.  Sporting scar prosthetics and a tacky silver grill, his Cain is a preternatural killer, forged in the bowels of a penal system that punishes what it creates.  What's refreshing about Adkins in this role is in how he approaches a fairly simple story and makes it human.  The genius of Avengement is in how Johnson spins several predictable threads into an atypical revenge yarn with a sense of humanity.  It's self-deprecating at times, laugh out loud hysterical at others, and almost always shockingly violent.  However, despite the brutality, the ever-present specter of trauma and tragedy are thankfully eschewed, presenting Cain's ordeal in a fantastical context rather than the dark and dreary treatment we're used to.

The supporting cast is filled with disposable hooligans and corrupt lawmen as expected, however there is one important standout.  Kerston Wareing (Fish Tank) gives a scene stealing turn as a jaded, tough as nails barkeep who brooks no fools.  Her scenes with Adkins are essential to the ambiance, and Johnson's choice to keep her character front and center is inspired.  It would have been easy to cast a cardboard persona in the role and Wareing was an inspired choice that defies expectations.  

Everything is elevated with Jonathan Hall’s high-octane cinematography.  The transition from prison to pub is realized with different angles and compositions.  The fights inside prison are close and tenuous, while the pub sequence that forms the spine of the narrative features more wide shots, mimicking Cain's transition from caged gladiator to fugitive avenger.  Dan Styles’ stunt coordination is flawless.  Every encounter is brutal, yet the performers move in a such a way that the bloodshed feels almost mythological, echoing John Wick and Kill Bill Vol. 1 in its larger than life presentation.   

Available for digital rental tomorrow, Avengement is a tapestry of jaw dropping violence encased within an unexpected revenge story.  Adkins not only delivers the performance of his career; he shows that the adult oriented action film is far from dead.   Blending elements from other pop culture action extravaganzas and melding them into a tight, bloody potboiler, Johnson earns his place within the pantheon of action auteurs. 

--Kyle Jonathan