When detailing delicate subject matter – in this case, sexual assault and the most toxic of masculinity – some films have the insight and intelligence to do so with a certain nuance. Asking For It is not one of those films! No, this is as subtle as a sledgehammer, ripping through its surfaces with a feminist-skewered anger that’s sure to generate the most spirited of conversations – for better or worse.
Taking note from the rape-revenge films of the 1970’s – sadly, highlighting the fact that so many underlying issues haven’t evolved in the half-century since – writer/director Eamon O’Rourke (making his feature debut) indulges in a cartoonish, exaggerated fashion as he follows young Joey (Kiersey Clemons) on her journey from safe-playing waitress to rape victim, a foul fall from bliss when she goes out with an old acquaintance and awakes to a horrific new reality.
Any safety and happiness she felt is immediately disregarded, so when she meets Regina (Alexandra Shipp) she’s immediately drawn to her strength and the underground feminist militia – led by Sal (Radha Mitchell) and Fala (Casey Camp-Horinek) – she’s a member of. These women, which also includes Vanessa Hudgens as the brutally-minded Beatrice, an action-first, think-later type, all share the common mentality of retribution, with their main target being Mark Vanderhill (Ezra Miller), an alt-right figurehead with an alpha-male complex who, had we not seen a Trump presidency, would almost seem too outlandish to be real.
The frenetic approach to editing offset by Clemons’ damaged, oft-numb performance lends Asking For It a strange, exciting duality. It’s disorientating at times, but this jarring effect means the film is never not holding your attention in some capacity. There’s a mid-section arc involving the girls – with Joey quickly initiated in Sal’s gang – running amuck at a frat house, teaching the archetypal douche brethren a lesson about their peddling of rape culture, that doesn’t quite gel tonally though. It’s clearly an issue that O’Rourke wants to address, but it feels more shoehorned than entirely organic compared to the bigger problem of Vanderhill’s MAGA, “men’s rights” activism plot that seems to truly drive so much of the momentum forward.
Whilst Asking For It may be a little uneven, and some audiences may find its not truly treating its subject matter with the respect it deserves, the film’s grindhouse temperament and progressive social conscience means the big swing O’Rourke has taken is more appreciated than not. It’s discussing topics that are anything but safe, and O’Rourke certainly makes his voice heard with a wild, unbridled, unapologetic, blackly comic revenge thriller that benefits from Clemons’ delicate performance and the surrounding female ensemble who all lean into their uncompromising psyches with ease.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Asking For It is screening in select theatres, digital and On Demand in the United States from March 4th, 2022. An Australian release is yet to be determined.