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The Independent Critic

Christy Oldham, Shane Woodson, Pippa Henchley, Elina Madison, David Castro, Will Beinbrink, Betsie Currie
Shane Woodson
Christy Oldham
Rated R (Language, Subject Matter)
94 Mins.
Mercury Rising Films

 "Barracuda" Review 
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It doesn't really mean anything.

It's just a fantasy. It's for fun, really. I surf porn because it gives me an outlet ... I would never really do any of this stuff. There's nothing wrong with a little role play, after all, is there? A schoolgirl fantasy? I would never want a real schoolgirl.

Unless. Maybe. If I knew I wouldn't caught, well maybe.

Based upon true events, Barracuda weaves together Tarantino, touches of 70's exploitation and a little bit of Hardy Candy into what may very well be every sexual violence survivor's ultimate fantasy ... No, not just revenge, but hardcore justice.

Produced, written by and starring Christy Oldham, Barracuda is a darkly comical film about Summer (Christy Oldham), a painter moonlighting as a phone sex operator to help pay the bills. What at first seemed like a relatively painless way to pay the bills during a career rough spot quickly turns into encounter after encounter with outwardly normal men whose sexual fantasies are anything but normal. Convinced that these men are masking more than just sexual fantasies but ignored by local law enforcement when she tries to do something about it, Summer sets out in her 1966 Plymouth Barracuda to exact her own brand of justice upon men whose dark sexual fantasies reveal even darker realities.

During a particularly rough patch in her own career, Barracuda producer, writer and lead actress Christy Oldham found herself working as a phone sex operator. It was during this time that she began to envision the film, of which she states "While Barracuda is fictional, it's truthful. The story is partially based on a phone sex operator's actual phone calls."

If you were to weave together Quentin Tarantino's stylized violence and dark, witty comedy with the emotional honesty of a film along the lines of Hard Candy, you'd begin to get an idea of what to expect from Barracuda, a film that frequently exudes a sort of 70's exploitation charm but is far too intelligently and competently made to ever be considered exploitation.

There are lots of filmmakers who try to convince audiences that their films possess some sort of redeeming social value, but if we're being honest most films dealing with the subject of sexual violence only serve to glorify the violence while creating even more masturbatory material for the off-kilter sexually perverse. Barracuda, somewhat surprisingly, actually manages to maintain a perfect balance of entertainment value, edgy filmmaking, dark humor and a powerful social statement that is completely undeniable. While Barracuda often looks like a 70's exploitation flick, director Shane Woodson and Oldham never cross that line of glorifying the very thing they purport to be fighting against.

While every film is a team effort, much of the credit for Barracuda's success most go to Oldham herself. Oldham not only has penned an exceptional script, but brings it beautifully to life in the lead role of Summer. Rather than allowing Summer to exist merely as some hyped up vigilante, Oldham's Summer is both hilariously awesome and, at times, touchingly real. There's a layer underneath Summer's actions that Oldham taps into that is simply electrifying to see on the big screen. At times you'd swear you're watching an old Angie Dickinson performance with all of Dickinson's larger than life swagger and girl next door charm. It's a beautiful film that can both entertain you and make you feel something, and thanks to Oldham's performance there's not a moment that passes that you're not completely locked into Summer's mission for each of these men to face absolute justice.

Oldham is certainly not alone in giving a tremendous performance, with the vast majority of the film's ensemble cast successfully tapping into its humorous yet realistic vibe. Stand-outs include David Castro's jarringly funny take on Raul, a man you shouldn't like at all but Castro manages to embody him with enough humanity that it serves as a reminder that not every rapist is the guy you'd expect. The same is true for Joe Calarco's uncomfortable turn as Paul, a "happily" married man whose sexual fantasies target the younger population including his daughter Tina. Terrence Flack gives the film a blaxpoitation vibe in one scene as a doctor called upon by Paul's fed up wife to deal with his aberrant behavior.

In fact, the film's strongest supporting performance may very well be Betsie Currie as Sharon, Paul's wife. While Currie only appears in one scene, the scene itself is a squeamish, funny and yet achingly painful scene as she becomes aware of Paul's increasingly corrupt fantasies and behavior. If you watch Currie's face during this scene, you won't know whether to laugh or cry as she comes to realize, much as Summer did, that extreme perversity demands an extreme response.

D.P. Marco Naylor lenses the film using the Red One Camera, which lends the film pristine imagery yet still maintains a sort of dusty sheen reminiscent of Tarantino and Natural Born Killers with the vibrancy of Kick-Ass. The end result is a film with a decidedly retro feel that still takes advantage of technological advances. Kudos as well go to Emir Isilay for an off-kilter, quirky original score with some terrific original tunes added to the mix as well.

Director Shane Woodson, who also makes an appearance in the film and serves as the film's co-producer, does a nice job of maintaining the film's delicate balance of humor and conviction. It's clear that both Woodson and Oldham were on the same page as to the direction of the film, finding a way to be dark, edgy and humorous without turning the film's serious message into a cartoon or its characters into caricatures.

Barracuda is already proving to be wildly successful on the film festival circuit, picking up the "Excellence in Filmmaking" Award at the 2011 Las Vegas International Film Festival and three award nominations during its premiere at the Burbank International Film Festival. The film has three festival appearances coming up including the Flint Film Festival in Michigan on October 14th, the New Orleans Film Festival on October 15-16, and the Mississippi International Film Festival on October 22nd.

For more information on Barracuda including upcoming screenings, visit the Barracuda website.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic