By Kate Boyle
Post-apocalyptic settings have become quite common in films and tv series and they appear to be here to stay. The reason for this is pretty much anything goes when you’re working within that genre as long as you can come up with something to grab the viewer’s attention. “Riot Girls” (2019) falls into that sci-fi, alternate history, post-disaster category.
The film is set in a small town, mid-1990’s after a mysterious plague has killed off the adult population. The young survivors of the town have split into two rival gangs; Westside for the wealthy, Eastside for the less fortunate. Though the plot may seem familiar, director Jovanka Vuckovic and writer Katherine Collins bring a new perspective to this post-apocalyptic survival flick. The Westside is run by The Titans; letter jacket-wearing mascots for toxic masculinity that rule from their fortified high school with an iron fist. The Eastside functions more like a come and goes commune; unofficial leader, no set hierarchy, all are welcome, and everyone does their share.
“Riot Girls” mostly follows main characters Nat (Madison Iseman) and Scratch (Paloma Kwiatkowski) as they venture West to try and locate Nat’s older brother Jack; unofficial leader of the Eastside. The East siders were styled more like rocker types, both Nat and Scratch dress in black, lots of zippers, patches, and spikes. Scratch’s pronouns were not used in the film (as far as I noticed), they dressed androgynously, sported an awesome mohawk, and in the film took a traditionally male role as “protector” of their partner Nat. I liked that they never distinguished whether or not Scratch identified as male or female, gay or straight because pointing it out would have taken away from the character. Including non-binary characters in a film naturally- not blatantly labeling them every chance possible- gives them a more realistic feel and not appear as a gimmick thrown in as a diversity bonus.
The Westside Titans were also an interesting group. The filmmakers did a fantastic job portraying how oppressive a society run by high school-aged jocks would be. The survivors living on that side of town that don’t conform are often met with degrading “detentions”, public humiliation, and violence. The pressure to be just like the charismatic and sadistic leader Jeremy (Munro Chambers) is too much for some residents and a free pass for others to embrace their inner psychopath. They present themselves as a structured organization, there to protect its people, “It’s all for the greater good”. But in reality, they’re more cult-like than public servants.
“In addition to its interesting characters, “Riot Girls” had a comic book vibe running throughout the film…There was also an appropriately epic 90s soundtrack.”
In addition to its interesting characters, “Riot Girls” had a comic book vibe running throughout the film. The opening credits were illustrated, there were text bubbles to introduce characters and locations, and there were visible lines (like panels in a comic book) as the camera panned from one scene to the next. It reminded me of a lot of styling of “iZombie” (2015-2019) I loved these little effects, it encouraged me to pay closer attention to see what other details the filmmakers threw in. There was also an appropriately epic 90s soundtrack.
Overall, “Riot Girls” was entertaining and refreshing- I’d be happy to watch it again. It left some gaps in the story; there wasn’t much information given on the plague that wiped out adults. Will it eventually kill everyone once they reach a certain age? Is it just this town that was affected? But none of these negatives were enough to stop me from enjoying the film. If you’re into the post-apocalyptic, sci-fi genre or just want to see the toxic masculinity literally beaten out of letter jacket-wearing psychopaths; then “Riot Girls” is the film for you. It’s available as of September 13th on several streaming platforms in the US and has a limited amount of theater showings. It will be released on October 1st in Canada and can be found on Sky Cinema in the UK.