Being a fan of Noir film and literature, I was excited to get a chance to see Julia, a film billed as a “neo-noir” revenge thriller, and I was not disappointed.
A synopsis: Julia was sexually abused by her father when she was a child. Strike one. As an adult, she goes on a first date and is drugged, gang raped, and left for dead. Strike 2. Seeking therapy to help her take back control of her life, she finds a unique treatment which takes her even farther down the rabbit hole. Strike three.
Julia, from director Matthew A. Brown, opens introducing the title character (Ashley C. Williams), a meek and somewhat mousy woman, arriving at a man’s apartment for their first date together. But her potential suitor has other plans and spikes her champagne with an immobilizing drug. The last thing Julia sees before passing out is the out-of-focus image of four men looking her over. We aren’t immediately shown what they do to her, but we later learn through a series of flashbacks the depths of degradation she suffers. In the next scene, two men dump Julia’s body along the shoreline, assuming it will be taken by the tide. However, one of them, Adam (Brad Koed), seems to have a remnant of a conscious, and disguising his actions as an attempt to get the body closer to the water, lags behind and revives Julia. After she manages to make her way home, there is a scene where a bloodied and battered Julia is sitting in a bathtub and slowly turns her head to stare directly at the camera. I wish I could adequately describe the look in her eyes, but suffice it to say it gave me goosebumps. The filmmakers had me from that point on.
As Julia tries to deal with what’s happened to her, she begins frequenting a bar where she overhears two women talking about a friend who was raped and now has a newfound confidence through a mysterious, innovative therapy. Julia finds her way to the therapist and begins the “treatment.” One would think that the therapist’s prerequisites – the doctor’s patients must not have reported what happened to them to anyone, including hospitals and police – would be a big red flag. But the women in his care are so damaged, desperate, and vulnerable, they are willing to grasp at anything for a solution. The doctor also has two conditions. You must give yourself over completely to his methods and you must never take matters into your own hands. Any violation of these conditions will result in severe consequences. Hmmm …
As the story proceeds, Julia becomes more and more confident and more and more her own woman. The doctor promises her that if she complies with his methods, no one will ever have power over her again. Apparently the good doctor is too self-involved to understand the hypocrisy and the inevitable karma lurking within his promise to Julia.
Julia has won several festival awards for best actress, best director and best cinematography and it’s easy to see why. It’s one of those films where everything works. The cinematography, sound, acting, and directing all blend together in creating the mood of this film. The more I watched it, the more I was entranced by the sound, the look, and the acting. Director of photography, Bergsteinn BjÃ¶rgÃºlfsson, created an interesting visual environment that also supports the story as the character of Julia is transformed.
Ashley C. Williams, who you may have seen as Lindsay in The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009), is the focus of this film. She’s on screen nearly 100% of the time and I never tired of her. Her character begins the film without any self-assuredness or sense of worth, burying herself in hooded coats, scarves piled high around her face, and oversized glasses she doesn’t need. In that pivotal scene in the bathtub where her stare projects hopelessness and despair and at the same time the beginnings of fierce determination, the metamorphosis of Julia begins. The character of Julia is consistently reticent, leaving Ashley C. Williams to communicate her transformation though eye movement, gestures, and body language, and she does an impressive job. Julia’s therapy mentor, Sadie, is very well played by Tahyna Tozzi, and Jack Noseworthy is sufficiently twisted and narcissistic as Dr. Sgundud, the creepy and similarly damaged therapist. Julia is writer/director Matthew A. Brown’s first feature film and it is a fine freshman effort. I look forward to his future work. In an interview on Horrornews.net, Ashley C. Williams said that the part was presented to her as a trilogy. I would be very interested to see what Julia is up to next.
The only quibble I have with the film is that some of what takes place during the story is a little hard to believe. For example, with the exception of Julia’s boss (Joel de la Fuente), there are no likable male characters. The best you get is Adam (Brad Koed), who decides to revive Julia rather than let her die, but only after doing nothing while watching her brutally gang raped. My hero! Most of the male characters are easily led around to implausible lengths by their penises. However, considering the state of women characters in a lot of horror films, it seems like so much quid pro quo and it really didn’t bother me that much. It really is just a quibble. After all, it is a horror film, or rather a neo-noir revenge thriller, and as such, Julia’s dark landscape is populated almost entirely with severely damaged people whose motivations I cannot begin to understand.
Speaking of horror, Julia walks the line between blood and gore. There is lots of blood, but only a couple graphically gory scenes. However, much of the implied gore that takes place off screen is truly disturbing, and a little imagination is good for the soul, right? Julia is a very atmospheric film — neo-noir remember — and as such, is not for everyone. However, I was enthralled with the look and sound of Julia and I liked Julia a lot. But that’s just me.
Julia (4 / 5)