An inherent problem with the rape-revenge genre is that there’s really no revenge to equal the emotional pain and trauma of a rape. Cutting the rapist’s dick off is pretty good, but it still doesn’t quite equal the violation he’s perpetrated, and nothing undoes the trauma he’s caused. Although there’s no appropriate revenge for murder either. Even eliminating the murderer doesn’t equal the loss you’ll feel without your loved one the rest of your life. So it’s really a paradox of revenge in general and Julia successfully transcends to the next level, although there is a rape and some consequences for the A-holes who committed it.
Julia Shamus (Ashley C. Williams) goes on a date where she is drugged and raped by her date and his friends. She overhears some women talking about a recovery therapy that has helped women through some cryptically alluded to “unorthodox” methods. So Julia seeks out this therapy and becomes a new woman, to say the least.
The doctor (Jack Noseworthy, kept mostly out of frame) begins by asserting that Julia may never employ their program to seek revenge. The reason being that revenge makes it personal and making it personal keeps one in the victim mentality. That is a profound analysis of the problem of rape-revenge, that even victory buys into the aggressor’s dynamic. So then the program, and the film, is about transcending into a freedom mindset.
“…a breakthrough performance for [Ashley C.] Williams.”
The program does include trapping the sort of men who could be rapists and teaching them a violent lesson. It’s sort of a Training Day for Paul Kersey. Sadie (Tahyna Tozzi) shows Julia how to seduce predatory men to follow her into a trap, and really seduces the audience to go along with it.
This is a breakthrough performance for Williams. She does so much with just a look that tells you everything Julia is and who she’s becoming. Shot beautifully by writer/director Matthew A. Brown and cinematographer Bergsteinn Bjorgulfsson, haunting shots recur at different moments to portray Julia in different mindsets in similar situations: riding an escalator, looking at her bloody reflection in the mirror.
Julia is a slow burn thriller anchored by a breathtaking performance by Williams. It’s got the visceral moments but makes you think bigger than a viscerally satisfying revenge. That makes it a powerful movie regardless of genre, let alone a standout piece of character based horror.