opinion : Aidil Rusli

‘Death Wish’: At long last another successful troll by Eli Roth

Aidil Rusli

MARCH 10 — Around this time last year, a genre film opened in the US and Canada and sparked a debate around a difficult subject—racism.

That film was Get Out, which has just won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar this year. 

Just last week (almost exactly one year after Get Out opened), another genre film opened in the US and sparked another debate around a difficult subject. 

That film is Eli Roth’s remake of Death Wish and the subject is gun control and vigilantism.

The main difference this time around is that the debate is mostly just happening among film critics, who are delighting in shooting down (excuse the pun) the film, calling it “misjudged”, “ill-timed, a “misfire” and all sorts of other things along the same lines, with almost all of them delivered with the (IMHO misguided) conviction that the original film was great.

As much as I loved Charles Bronson, anyone who thinks that the original Death Wish is a good film really needs to see it again. 

We may have watched it (and its many sequels) when we were younger and have nostalgia, rose-tinted glasses and all that to thank for that impression, but the fact remains that the original Death Wish was nothing more than an exploitation film, and not even a sturdily made one at that. Let’s just say that Michael Winner is no Richard Fleischer and leave it at that.

But I’m digressing. To miss the point that Death Wish (both the original and the remake) is intended to be nothing more than an exploitation film, with all the lowly and cheap thrills that grindhouse films have to offer, is one thing. 

But to totally miss the point about who and what kind of film-maker Eli Roth is, is really something that these critics should’ve known better by now.

First making a splash with Cabin Fever but truly rising to prominence with Hostel and its sequel (which gleefully makes fun of the stereotypical American tourist and giving them their gloriously bloody comeuppance), and then provoking liberals even more when the victims in The Green Inferno are actually Greenpeace-types who want to save the forest, which he then pushes further when making the victim in Knock Knock a more or less good guy seduced (maybe even forced) into being naughty.

People should know by now that Roth is more or less a troll who delights at provoking good people with taste.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that his remake of Death Wish, a revenge film about a good guy resorting to stopping bad guys with guns, is released just a few weeks after the Parkland shooting, prompting critics to call its release ill-timed, with some even condemning the film as more or less a fascist and pro-gun ownership N.R.A. advertisement. 

But knowing America’s fascination with guns and gun ownership, is there ever a good time to release a film like Death Wish? I don’t think there is or ever will be, despite Florida’s very recently passed and stricter gun laws.

But again, I’m digressing. Imagining in theory what the Death Wish remake is like versus the actual experience of watching it will give you two totally different results. 

While the original Death Wish is pretty solemn and serious about the conflict within Charles Bronson’s character, this remake is very tongue in cheek about the whole thing, with Bruce Willis tossing out plenty of chuckle-worthy one liners right after dispatching (or maiming) his victims. 

And there’s even quite a healthy number of gross-out gory gags (or ultra-violence, some people call it) that will make you scream and laugh at the screen, like they always do in Roth’s films before this.

Even more crucial is the fact that scattered throughout the film are gags that are clearly meant to satirise America’s fascination with guns, and how easy it is to get them, legally. 

If people can see that Paul Verhoeven is on satire mode with Robocop and Starship Troopers (both films can easily be called fascist too, which indeed they were by some sections of America), it boggles the mind to see the sheer amount of outraged film critics out there who failed to pick up on this point with Roth’s remake.

In short, to my eyes and ears this is a perfectly acceptable update (or remake, or reimagining, whatever you want to call it) for current tastes. 

The action is slickly staged and edited. The dialogue and humour tongue-in-cheek. And there’s even little bits of ultra-violence thrown in to satisfy gorehounds, though not as many as the glorious John Wick or The Raid films. 

I’d even go as far as to call this a sort of return to form for Roth, who’s been on a bit of stumble ever since the good old days of the Hostel films. He’s back doing what he does best here — provoking outrage by serving up violence and forcing us to think for ourselves whether it’s right or wrong, but not at the expense of good, old fashioned and immoral grindhouse fun. 

Consider yourself trolled.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.