Exploitation films, when done right, can carry something that appeals so perfectly to my sensibilities, and when I’m thinking of a film that points directly towards all of them in the best possible ways, one of the first that would come to mind is none other than Abel Ferrara’s Ms .45. Admittedly my start towards the work of Ferrara left me disinterested in rushing to see more of his films (Bad Lieutenant is due for a revisit, as I was extremely unimpressed with my initial viewing) but going through random selections in his body of work impressed me all the more, but it was right when I saw Ms .45 when Ferrara has won me over. It takes the basic premise from a rape and revenge thriller, but also turns it into something terrifying at hand.
The late Zoë Lund plays our subject, Thana. It started off as any ordinary day for the mute Thana, but upon walking home she is raped inside of an alley by an attacker wearing a mask – a perfect setup towards where her state of mind is building up to. She walks back into her apartment to find that a burglar is in the house, and a second time, she is raped. It is from this moment in which her psychology has taken a full leap, because unlike the first rape in which she succumbs to her attacker, she manages to bludgeon the burglar to death, and she has lost all sense of her own humanity. It sounds like a basic setup for any rape and revenge exploitation film, but the deeper meaning behind Ms .45is where the work manages to stand apart.
As we watch Zoë Lund’s Thana going on her trials all throughout the film after the trauma which she had endured, she turns into a misandrist and starts going out on a killing spree. With Abel Ferrara’s focus upon her as the lead character, we get an insight upon the experiences of a woman after abuse. Not that I am saying serial killers can always come out as a result of the trauma, but when you consider the fact that she is a mute, it goes to represent the helplessness that any victim of rape is set to endure in their lifetime. Her motivations are never glorified, but the moment in which she finally turns into a misandristic killer is key to the film’s brilliant allegory, in the sense that as she goes out, she brings to the male gender what she had felt from one experience: hinting towards Ferrara’s attacking the hate crimes that can be inflicted upon anyone over anything.
Zoë Lund is a revelation as Thana, in what is both one of the most heart-wrenching and frightening studies of character that I have been lucky to have come across in my lifetime. The fact that she is a mute is one factor to the beauty of her performance, given as no voice is required for her to have such depth in this role. It only requires her facial expressions to carry such beauty in this role, as she carries extremes as a means of defining her character. It helps that the way she is written is so bitingly perfect in the sense that her own development lifts what could easily come off as something basic for the rape and revenge thriller into something incredible. It depicts the worst nightmares in which any woman can experience in their lifetime, but the way it moved drew me back to the progression of Catherine Deneuve’s Carol Ledoux in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, in the sense that both characters carry a sort of innocence at the start only to have lost everything from one horrible experience. From that aspect alone, I knew already that I was in line for something fantastic.
What also caught me off-guard is Abel Ferrara’s utilization of the aesthetic, in a sense that it looks so much like it can be any ordinary exploitation film but never would I have expected something that was ever as meaningful as what he had created inMs .45. In Ms .45, Ferrara’s minimalism captures many emotions, whether it range from hate or claustrophobia, in order to capture Thana’s experience during the current scenes and it only impressed me all the more. The imagery which Ferrara places is also representative of where something more can come in, such as Thana’s nun outfit or the many crosses placed all throughout, capturing a sense of religious guilt. Add that together with the coldness that fills the atmosphere and Ms .45 becomes something all the more frightening to think about, as Ferrara captures a perspective so perfectly and makes the viewer go along with it. And what he chose to place one in is only a nightmare unlike any other.
Ms .45 is a feminist exploitation thriller in the best sense: one that creates a voice for the helpless, now finally having lashed out. A work that is so critical of the power that pervades society on either side of the spectrum, for it mixes together the worst nightmares that anyone can ever be unlucky enough to go through and Ferrara presents something that explores the effects that the trauma can leave upon oneself. It is clever enough how Ferrara has managed to lace so much meaning into this aesthetic, and I know for a fact that Ms .45 won’t be a film I would ever forget. A film so aggressive with what it is picturing, to that point we have sleaze and terror blended so perfectly. Could this be an essential revenge thriller? I wouldn’t deny it.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Drafthouse Films.
Directed by Abel Ferrara
Screenplay by Nicholas St. John
Produced by Rochelle Weisberg, Richard Howorth, Mary Kane
Starring Zoë Lund
Release Year: 1981
Running Time: 80 minutes