Dark Sky Films
Editor’s note: Our review of Redeemer originally ran during last year’s Fantastic Fest, but we’re re-posting it now as the film opens in limited release.
Sometime after making the highly entertaining, ass-kicking spy spoof Mandrill, martial artist and budding action star Marko Zaror wasn’t sure what to do with his time. He had begun considering going into real fighting – MMA style bouts that could help pay the bills. Then Robert Rodriguez called and asked him to make a memorable appearance in the otherwise unmemorable Machete Kills . It was back to acting and in the end, back to Austin where Kills debuted at Fantastic Fest 2013. It was in this moment, Zaror explains, that he decided that he wanted to come back with another movie. It was later that night, in Austin, over drinks with the two ladies in his life – his girlfriend and his mom – that Redeemer was born. Now here he is, back in Austin. Still kicking ass on the big screen.
Cut to a shot of Zaror from behind, sitting on a bed. We’re several moments into Redeemer at this point. He picks up a gun and loads it with a lone bullet. Raising his arms out to the side, he reveals an expansive array of back tattoos with plenty of Christian iconography, most notably an image of Christ on the cross. He performs the sign of the cross, raises the gun to his temple and pulls the trigger. Click. Saved again by what he believes to be divine intervention. Set once again along his path of righteous vengeance. He is The Redeemer. He’s like Chilean Batman, but with a Vigilante Jesus complex.
It’s all part of Redeemer’s interesting premise. Zaror plays a man who lived through something terrible, but endured only to come out the other side believing that he was spared for a purpose. Now he spends his days helping those in need with round-house kicks that would make Bruce Lee raise and eyebrow. But as we are quick to learn, darkness comes for us all. Years of vigilante justice creates more than a reputation, it creates enemies. In the case of The Redeemer, plenty of men want him dead.
The novel premise and slow burn execution of Redeemer’s story is a credit to Zaror’s growth as an actor and director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza, who previously collaborated with Zaror on Mandrill and Mirageman. This is perhaps their most hardened dramatic effort, but in no way does that prevent them from pulling back the camera and showing off some high-footed heroics. Because after all, Zaror is most impressive when he’s doing back flips and landing hard blows on nameless goons.
Serving as fight coordinator, Zaror is clearly enamored with his own fighting a way that periodically gives the action beats a stumbling nature. Some fights go on a little too long and even though he’s come a long way, Zaror hasn’t quite mastered the art of making it look like he doesn’t know what his on-screen opponents are doing. That said, some of those punches are real. And the ones that land can be felt by the audience.
For all its minor faults, Redeemer is good fun. A surprisingly thoughtful, hard-hitting Chilean action movie that’s still rough around the edges. It’s a quality import, made with passion by a star and director who are comfortable working together. It’s the kind of international fare that’s waiting for an American studio to come along and give it a lean, energetic edit and a quality DVD/Video-on-Demand release. Plus, it’s more fuel to my fantasies of seeing an Expendables-like team-up movie from Zaror, Scott Adkins, Donnie Yen and The Raid star Iko Uwais. If there is a God, as Redeemer would lead us to believe, then he’ll make that happen.
The Upside: Marko Zaror kicks ass, per usual.
The Downside: The film needs a little bit of fat trimmed, even from some of the action.