Sanctioning Evil (2022) Review

Sanctioning Evil begins in Afghanistan, where a squad led by Staff Sergeant Reginald Barnes (Tobias Truvillion, Equal Standard, Respect the Jux) encounters a group of civilians. Things go sideways and one of his men kills a young boy, for which the entire squad is given a dishonourable discharge.

Eight months later, broke and living in his mother’s trailer, Barnes responds to a letter from Congressman Dakota Ambrose (Zach McGowan, Murder at Yellowstone City, The Scorpion King: Book of Souls) who sat in on the proceedings against him and offered to help. He has a job for him if he’s willing to join a covert government organization.

Despite his original refusal, Barnes ends up accepting an offer from Dakota’s brother Seth (Kyle Travis Sharp, All Hail Dama) to help take care of criminals who have escaped justice, child molesters in particular.

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Now, this probably sounds a bit familiar, it was only a couple of weeks ago that Section 8 ventured into similar territory. But director Ante Novakovic (Little Ukraine, American Fright Fest) and writer Kyle Travis Sharp, working from a story by Lance Sharp, take the idea in a different direction.

Rather than go for the kind of set pieces one would expect from an action film, Sanctioning Evil instead gives us quick glimpses of Barnes at work. Shooting an unarmed man in the woods, stabbing a woman to death on a deserted street, etc. He looks more like a criminal than the vigilante heroes we’re used to seeing in films like Death Wish or The Exterminator.

That’s not the only way Sanctioning Evil blurs the lines between hero and hitman. When asked to get information out of his next target rather than simply killing them Barnes’ only concern is that he gets paid more for it, “The service you ask for needs to be on par with the money”. Torturing people only bothers him if he’s not getting paid for it. And he seems to be quite good at it, suggesting his service in Afghanistan wasn’t as clean as he would have people believe.

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Sanctioning Evil is billed as an action film, and I kept waiting for the action to kick in, but it never really does. There’s no shortage of killings, but his targets are generally unarmed and rarely fight back. That starts to get dull before this nearly two-hour-long film reaches its halfway mark. Dead pedophiles are a good thing, watching a bunch of actors playing pedophiles get killed needs a bit more to keep it interesting, however.

As a thriller, Sanctioning Evil has issues as well. There’s no sense of threat, no cops sniffing around their trail for most of the film. The FBI shows up around the hour mark, one of whom, Agent Kensington (Taryn Manning, Orange is the New Black, One Day as a Lion) coincidentally knows Seth from Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

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That’s about the point where another twist drops, and I hoped the last act would deliver a hail of bullets. Instead, we get to go to AA with Seth and Dani and get a lot more talk as well as a ludicrous coincidence before we finally get a few minutes of gunfire. And that is followed by an even more unlikely twist that really feels like it was pulled out of the writer’s ass at the last minute.

Talky and dull with a plot that relies on coincidence Sanctioning Evil is an overlong mess that could have been a solid revenge-based action film. Or an interesting conspiracy film. Or a thriller about political corruption. Instead, it incorporates bits of all three and comes out with a mess, complete with a sanctimonious quote from the bible to justify it all.

Vertical Entertainment released Sanctioning Evil in select US theatres and on VOD and Digital platforms yesterday, October 7th. If you’re looking for something similar but hopefully better, you can check FilmTagger for suggestions.

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