CW: discussions of sexual assault
Horror now must see the world as a rabbit does. Rabbits are one of the only animals capable of looking behind itself and ahead at the same time (the only other animal that can is the parrot). This perspective is necessary because of horror’s place in the cinematic canon. It’s always been the genre that pushes, that goes beyond, that challenges and flexes against not only its own constraints but the prevailing constraints of its culture. Nowhere is this bold, outlaw status more apparent than in the subgenre of “rape-revenge” films.
Titles like I Spit On Your Grave and Last House on the Left helped establish rape-revenge, loosely defined by the narrative surrounding a woman’s sexual assault and subsequent vengeance against her attackers. Since these films, the genre’s popularity has only grown. But, looking forward, what does a rape-revenge film look like in 2019? What must it do to reflect the larger awareness surrounding sexual assault in the era of #MeToo? Brian Darwas’ new film Get My Gun aims to answer that question, and, to this reviewer, succeeds in telling a sensitive, thoughtful film with an exploitation sensibility without any exploitative excess.
The film centers around Amanda (played by Kate Hoffman), a motel maid. She trains and befriends Rebecca (played by Christy Casey), a newly employed maid. For the better part of the film’s beginning, they go about their days cleaning the various rooms of the seedy motel as Amanda walks Rebecca through the various goings-on of the place. We watch the two grow closer together and are almost disarmed. A part of me would watch a movie that never leaves this preamble. So relatable and wonderful are the performances and believable the bonds between Hoffman and Casey’s characters.
But, of course, the terrible thing happens to Amanda. When it does, Darwas’ direction and his script, co-written with Jennifer Carchietta, treat is as it is. The attacker, never named, doesn’t wear a ski mask, doesn’t laugh maniacally or foam at the mouth. He looks like a dude, like a dude who could be anybody. This normalness is both chilling and necessary because one glance at the staggering statistics surrounding assault would tell that it is, unfortunately, and chillingly, normal. Darwas’ direction ensures that the rape is about power and Amanda’s dehumanization. It never feels like its about sex. It is over quickly, and it doesn’t imbue Amanda with contrived plot powers. Afterward, she’s found by Rebecca and cared for.
It is here, at this moment, that Get My Gun truly steps into its own. Despite not being incredibly close, despite being no more than work friends, Rebecca’s compassion and understanding for Amanda in this vulnerable moment was incredibly moving. Moreover, the fallout of the assault is not played for melodrama. We understand Amanda’s hurt without wallowing in it, without it feeling like it destroys her. There are no wailings, no screams, just the unspeakable pain of the story and Hoffman’s expressive face to tell us all we need to know. Also, in a flash of brilliance, Rebecca asks Amanda if she needs her to stay with her, and Amanda refuses. Rebecca replies, “Okay. I’m gonna call you in an hour. If you don’t pick up, I’ll come right over.” Amanda is given her agency back by a sympathetic friend when she needs it most. Her healing becomes her choice.
I could watch this movie, too. And yet there’s more as time leaps forward and Amanda, now pregnant with her attackers baby, decides to put it up for adoption. When the prospective adopter, a woman named Catherine, played by Roseanne Rubino, starts to give Amanda the wrong vibes, things escalate into organically terrifying territory.
The world built by Darwas and Carchietta is so real and grounded that I didn’t expect the horror when it finally filled the rest of Get My Guns modest run time. Hoffman’s vulnerable, open performance communicates the innumerable emotions of life after trauma without succumbing to the usual exploitative kabuki of trauma theatre. When the horror does come, Darwas handles it like a veteran, building suspense and exploding it in sharp bursts of sound design and stylistic direction that call to mind the best moments of Peckinpah and Wingard. The performances from Hoffman, Casey, and Rubino all feel remarkably real, subverting the morality play expectations audiences have for the average rape-revenge film. The opening scene in which Hoffman speaks the titular line, she is wearing a nun costume. Darwas wants us to understand that while this movie shares some plot elements with classic rape-revenge movies like Abel Ferrara’s Ms. 45, Get My Gun has a new perspective on things.
Get My Gun is a rape-revenge film for the modern era with enough tenderness and compassion to treat rape stories as human stories. It’s not overtly political and it’s not a parade of trauma and pain. It is one woman’s story, skillfully told, and for that, everyone should be looking at it.