The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at] I'd love to check out what you got. And check out my book, Chad in Accounting, over on Amazon.

Monday, December 26, 2022

Renegades (2022)

I'd been waiting on this one since I reviewed Nemesis (2021), but unfortunately ended up waiting a bit too long, as the screener screenwriter Tom Jolliffe had Shogun Films send me unfortunately ended up in my spam folder. Luckily I decided to check there two weeks later, found it, and am now able to make this review happen. 

Renegades has the great Lee Majors as a former Green Beret who's murdered by a gang run by Louis Mandylor, after Majors tries to get them to leave his daughter, Patsy Kensit, alone. This is right after he helps Nick Moran, a down on his luck former special forces soldier whose father served with Majors, and when Moran hears of the murder, he goes to Majors's former fellow soldiers, Billy Murray, Ian Ogilvy, and Paul Barber, so they can exact their revenge on Mandylor. At the same time, Jeanine Nerissa Sothcott is a police detective who's been trying to take Mandylor down, and when she discovers that Moran and crew are going after Mandylor, she has a decision to make: stop them so she can do her job and let the law handle it, or stand back and see if these older former soldiers can do what the law can't. Will they prevail?

This was fantastic. When I reviewed Nemesis earlier this year, both Jonathan Sothcott and Jeanine Nerissa Sothcott told me if I enjoyed that, I'd love this, and they were right. Simple concept: evil, ruthless baddie, against a fun, ragtag group of underdog heroes that you can't help rooting for, and I think this would've been great on its own if that's all this was; but from there, the performances were great, even from the cameos like Danny Trejo and Michael Pare; plus the way the story grew organically, allowing for the nuance to develop in certain aspects, like what Nick Moran's character was going through as a former soldier trying to make it in civilian life. It's the kind of thing a churn-and-burn DTV actioner wouldn't have the bandwidth to pull off, but here it's handled with a level of depth and allowed to flourish in a way I didn't come in expecting. There were other aspects I appreciated as well, like how we get the scene of Mandylor beating up a rival gang member he captured cut with and juxtaposed with the scene of Moran's character talking to the other guys about what he's been going through, trying to move onto civilian life after the war. It was like we had two distinct forms of intensity, one that's more common in an action film, and one that we might see more in an indie drama, and we're shuttling back and forth between both. As a device I liked it, because it allowed those more dramatic elements to flourish without weighing the film down in what is ultimately an action film. This might not be the best film for Christmas, but considering we all get the 26th off this year, I can't think of a better way for us Yanks to celebrate Boxing Day than to fire this one up.

When I reviewed Nemesis I was really big on Nick Moran's performance, and he came back in this and was even better. The opening of the film is anchored by him, and he really leans into who that character is, so it was great to see him hit that out of the park. As I mentioned above, I also liked the way the story moved organically, it allowed Moran's character's past to take on a depth that we wouldn't see in most DTV flicks, and I think that's important. My wife and I were watching an old episode of Emergency! recently, and it had the trope of the crazed Vietnam vet who's violent and seeing ghosts, and while we've come a long way in our depiction of veterans in popular media, the idea of the combat vet suffering from PTSD is one that's often handled in films in a way that's too reductive, which then often leads it to being exploitative. The fact that this film didn't do that with Moran's character was refreshing, but I also think a sign of how the people working at Shogun Films not taking the churn-and-burn approach to film making can give us something like this more nuanced, three-dimensional hero, so I'm looking at it and saying "this isn't the usual bearded, grimacing, white guy former special forces dude I'm used to seeing, this guy has me pulled in and invested, and I'm ready to see him and everyone else through the rest of this film." When I talked with screenwriter Tom Jolliffe about his previous film When Darkness Falls, and the previous Shogun film Nemesis, he mentioned the slow burn aspect both of those films had. I think Tom's screenplay here does a great job of drawing on that slow burn aspect enough to let things grow organically, even if the action kicks in sooner than it does in those others; but for the slow burn to work, even in the more limited capacity in which it's used here, it needs a performance like Moran's, plus the directing and editing that trusts it'll all work, and we definitely get all of it.

Speaking of the directing, Daniel Zirilli is a name that's popped up on our site quite a bit, so when I found out he was working with Shogun Films and Jonathan Sothcott on this, I was excited to see what would come of that collaboration. The last Zirilli-directed film we looked at on the site was the Dolph flick Acceleration, and while I enjoyed that, I didn't enjoy it as much as this because it had too many other elements that weighed the film down when it didn't need to, while this had a simple premise that I think they were able to add elements to--like Moran's character's development--in ways that didn't impede the fun and the action, which ended up enhancing the film overall. Like I've been doing with Shogun Films, I've also been following Zirilli on Instgram, and it's fun to see what projects he's working on and who he's working on them with. In that sense, like Sothcott, Jolliffe, and the rest of Shogun, Zirilli's a fellow fan who's making these movies for fans like us, and it's great to see it all come together like it did here.

Also from Nemesis we have Billy Murray and Jeanine Nerissa Sothcott, with Murray as a part of the crew of retired soldiers, and Nerissa Sothcott as the Scotland Yard Detective trying to take Mandylor's crime syndicate down. Having Murray with Paul Barber and Ian Ogilvy really made that gang extra fun, which not only made it easy for us to root for them and be invested in their success, but also worked as a good juxtaposition from Moran's more serious character. I could see Murray in anything really, so to see him turning in such a fun performance is even better. With Nerissa Sothcott's character, I think because the only other main female character was Patsy Kensit's, and she was more set up as the damsel in distress at the end, we needed Sothcott's to make the film less boys club-ish. I also really liked how they used her character as the bridge to get Michael Pare's cameo in the film, because it both got us Pare in a way that worked, but also set up her character less as someone passively letting Moran and company take care of her Mandylor problem for her, but rather strategically weighing her options on whether or not this is a good play. Finally, with the human trafficking element to Mandylor's crime syndicate, Nerissa Sothcott's character also prevents the film from being too "women are helpless and need their White Knight male heroes to come and save them," and we especially get this kind of mitigation when Mandlyor's character makes a crack about Sothcott potentially dancing for him at his club, and she shuts him down. This is another area where Shogun gets it right. Most DTV flicks would take her role, whittle it down to a day's worth of shooting, and get a big name like Pare to play it so they can stick him on the tin. Instead, Jeanine Nerissa Sothcott takes the part and invests more in it, and the result is something we didn't know we needed, but helps to give the film more depth and make it more enjoyable--plus we still get our fun Pare cameo too.

Finally, two last points. First, I liked the way the film used London as a character by giving us these beautiful establishing shots of the city, the images we in the rest of the world think of when we hear "London;" and then jumping down into the grittier underbelly of gangs and organized crime that me on my 1997 class trip there was oblivious to--though I did see a man speeding the wrong way up a street in a stolen car, so there was that. The other piece was the use of Mandylor's character as an outsider by being an Aussie. Too often in the States films use African American or Latin American gangs as a way to depict this concept of the outsider "invading" a neighborhood, from which the overtones and dog whistles are obvious. Having the character be from a Commonwealth country though, we could have the outsider "invading" London aspect without the racism that usually comes with that approach. To further divorce it, we have Danny Trejo's character playing someone who's an adopted Londoner further depicting Mandylor and his gang as the outsiders. I don't know that this was a conscious decision, or more like "we have Louis Mandylor as the baddie, what can we do with that?" but I appreciated the way it worked out.

And with that, let's wrap this up. As of right now, you can get this through VOD in the States, and I think it's also available on Blu-ray in Germany. For the UK, January 30th it'll be available as well. This is well worth checking out. You can support indie filmmakers and enjoy a fun actioner while you do it. What's better than that?

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