Director Eli Roth, the sometime splatter-maestro behind Cabin Fever and Hostel, insists that his new superfluous remake of the grimy 1974 revenge thriller, Death Wish, is about family, not guns. Yet for months, the marketing campaign for the film has scoured social media in search of negative responses to the NRA-friendly trailer, featuring Bruce Willis shooting people to the strains of AC/DC.
This extensive search for “offended liberals”, “snowflakes” and “social justice warriors” did little to persuade even right-wing Americans, who stayed away in their droves when the film was released in early March, just two weeks after the Parkland shootings.
In the original Michael Winner film, Charles Bronson was an architect who embarked on a vengeful rampage after some New York nogoodniks killed his wife and raped his daughter. In the new film, Bronson's stone-faced vigilante is replaced by Bruce Willis's smug surgeon. His daughter is no longer raped and the action has shifted to Chicago, prompting the Chicago Reader to dismiss the film as a "Trumpian fantasy".
That's only half-right. While Death Wish often doubles as a commercial for the US gun lobby, its uneven, head-scratching tone recalls Milo Yiannopoulos's Twinks for Trump campaign. Is it trolling? Is it on the up-and-up? Is it something in between?
Roth delivers gleeful shoot-’em-up action, playful split screens and sadistic set pieces – including the severing of a sciatic nerve – alongside social commentary.
Radio presenters provide handy excuses ("we got a white guy in a hoodie killing black people: you don't got a problem with that?") under the guise of debate. DoP Rogier Stoffers's (School of Rock) glossy, bright cinematography – the antithesis of Winner's aesthetic – is in keeping with a film that often plays like a superhero movie, free of consequence and unacquainted with reality. Indeed, the DJ chatter around Willis's "Grim Reaper" could easily have been lifted from an episode of Black Lightning or Jessica Jones.
For all the alt-right posturing, one scene follows Willis to a Jolly Roger firearms outlet, where he wonders about the paperwork required. “Don’t worry”, smiles the bosomy gun wench who serves him, “no one ever fails”. Moving swiftly on: gun deaths for all!
The screenplay is attributed to Joe Carnahan (The A-Team) but we're calling Russian trolls.