After more than 30 years since its original release, Abel Ferrera’s Ms. 45 has been resurrected as the next in line of Drafthouse Films’ releases. Originally panned by critics, the film has garnered a cult following over the past three decades. With a new remastered, unrated cut, the film is returning to limited theaters and home video for a new generation of film audiences. However, will its cult status be justified in this age of new cinematic advancements, or will it be seen as an outdated blast from the past and nothing else?
Director: Abel Ferrera
Release Date: December 13, 2013
Thana (Zoe Tamerlis Lund) is a mute seamstress living and working in New York City. On her way home one day, she’s viciously attacked and raped in an alley. During the encounter, a burglar breaks into her apartment and assaults her once she returns. However, during the incident, Thana is able to get the upper-hand, accidentally killing the assailant in the process. After dismembering his body, she takes his gun and begins venturing into the city, targeting horny men who may or may not pose as a threat to her. With her psyche diminishing, she begins to purposely bait men as a means of justifiably murdering them in a twisted sense of self-fulfillment.
By making Thana mute, other characters (obviously) have to speak for Thana, outside of the handful of times she directly communicates with written messages. Outside of the noted references/homages to the Swedish film Thriller – A Cruel Picture, what purpose does a mute protagonist fit? Outside of unnecessary exposition and having to audibly be presented to Thana’s rationale, is there any real benefit to having Thana mute? In saying that, is there something wrong in keeping the film’s protagonist silent? I don’t have an answer for this right now, yet it was something I was wondering throughout the film’s duration.
Now comes the actual crux of the review: the subject matter. I’ll be perfectly blunt: An exploitation film like this would never fly under current MPAA guidelines. With censorship looming over the art of cinema, growing awareness of political correctness, and the internet’s newfound embracement of feminism, does Ms. 45 get a “pass” because of its cult status and self-awareness of its genre (late ’70s-esque exploitation)? Any modern film that featured a female protagonist (or any person, for that matter) getting raped and sexually assaulted without having a voice, figuratively and literally in this instance, would face so many objections. Is it fair to view the film’s subject matter through the current, hyper-political lens we treat contemporary films? Probably not.
Then again, isn’t that the whole basis for exploitation films? To take social norms, social taboos, and throw them out the window? Thana fits this super feminist role where she takes justice, no matter how misguided, into her own hands. But, at the same time, it’s at the cost of her sanity and sexuality. As her mind begins to further twist and devolve, she begins to dress more provocatively to lure her prey in before killing them. I feel torn and conflicted over the film’s content.
From a strictly technical standpoint, the acting is subpar and exaggerated, which is more of a reflection of the genre/times. The HD remastering helped the video fidelity and audio quality, but Ms. 45 was never a technical achievement, anyways. Again, this is due in part to its exploitation nature.
In 30 years, I feel that films and film audiences have grown by leaps and bounds. Films look more grandiose, subject matter is more introspective and entertaining… I can understand why the film has its cult following, but I just can’t consider myself to be part of it. With its re-release for new audiences, I’m curious to see if audiences will accept it or malign it much in the same way it was so many years ago.