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Review: Staring Back (2020)

Staring Back is an 18-minute short that the makers say was “inspired by the Brock Turner case”. In this case, inspired means’ writer/director Jessica Dawn Willis imagines a what-if scenario wherein a brother and sister kidnap a rapist who bought his way out of legal trouble.

Opening with a shot of Clara (April Hartman, Nothing But the Blood, High Moon) cleaning her nails with a knife, the camera pulls back to reveal the situation. She and Jon (John Bergsten) have a man (Mitch McLeod, Silhouette) tied to a chair. They also have a selection of knives, brass knuckles, etc.

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It seems he raped a friend of theirs and posted nudes of her on the internet. She killed herself. They want revenge, which includes torturing a confession out of him.

Staring Back is a technically well-made and acted film. But this just felt like Hostel with a justification for the torturers. I enjoy films like I Spit on Your Grave or Beyond Fury because there is suspense and action along with the brutal payback. But an entire film where a bound person with no means of escape is tormented has no suspense. Torture in and of itself doesn’t hold much interest for me. Be it in a short like this or one of those “extreme horror” imitation snuff films like August Underground.

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Maybe if the script had offered up some interesting or novel perspective, I would have stayed interested. But saying rapists are scum and deserve to die isn’t telling me anything I don’t know. The short running time doesn’t give the opportunity to make the characters compelling, either. Hell, Clara is so shrill and obnoxious, I hated her as much as the nameless rapist by the end of the film.

Given the popularity of torture films and rape/revenge films, I’m certain there will be plenty of people who will love Staring Back. It just wasn’t my style of film. You can check the Absentia Pictures Facebook page for more information on possible screenings.

Our Score
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