Duration: 85 minutes
Directed by: Josef Kubota Wladyka
Written by: Kali Reis, Josef Kubota Wladyka
Starring: Kali Reis, Kevin Dunn, Daniel Henshall, Kimberly Guerrero
Revenge thrillers have become a growing sub-genre that have re-launched the careers of some and created new major franchises. Most tend to feature a general plot centered around the idea of revenge or reclaiming something that’s been taken surrounded by glossy, high-octane action. With his latest film, “Catch the Fair One” (2021), writer/director Josef Kubota Wladyka throws away the theatrics for a darker, more grounded revenge tale.
The basic framework of the story is pretty reminiscent of most revenge thrillers. The film follows former boxer Kaylee (Kali Reis) as she ends up in dark and dangerous places on the search for her missing sister. However, Kubota Wladyka trades glossy action for a more daunting and realistic atmosphere. The film’s frigid cold setting creates this creeping chill as Kaylee falls deeper into the secretive, drug-fueled human trafficking ring that’s enveloped her community and taken her sister.
Even when the film does head into more actiony territory, it’s much more terrifying and grittier than awe-striking and fantastical. Kubota Wladyka definitely brings some of his experience from working on Netflix’s “Narcos” to “Catch the Fair One” with the vicious fights and kills seen throughout Kaylee’s fight for her life. Every instant of violence and blood spilling here is not for the faint of heart and there are some brutal moments that come from Kaylee doing whatever she can to find her sister. There are plenty of moments that test Kaylee’s morality and push her to do some incredibly dark acts. She’s certainly not above waterboarding and her actions show how far she’s willing to go.
However, Kaylee never comes off unlikable because Kubota Wladyka does a great job establishing how Kaylee’s sister disappearing has greatly affected her. Her boxing career is in a decline because she’s lost something to fight for and her relationship with her mother has deteriorated so it’s easy to empathize with her fight even as things get darker and more depraved in her journey. The way that Kubota Wladyka uses sequences of her training to subtly show how she’s been training for this revenge mission works well in building the intensity of the film and shows how much this mission means to her. Not to mention, having a true professional boxer like Reis is perfect as she makes those training sequences really captivating visually and gives Kaylee an authentically physical persona.
Even with Reis in the role though, Kaylee never comes off as invincible or invulnerable like most revenge thriller protagonists. There are plenty of moments where Kaylee is forced into vulnerable positions and comes away with some pretty nasty scars that make everything going forward more challenging. It’s a great departure from the usual revenge thriller formula that constantly leaves you on edge with every encounter Kaylee has and leaves you guessing if she’s really going to make it out of this situation.
There’s a lot of great qualities to “Catch the Fair One” that make it unique compared to other revenge thrillers, but it struggles to leave a deeper impact. The film, overall, is pretty basic from a story standpoint as it doesn’t have much depth in its setting or its main antagonists. Things start out on such a personal and engaging note with Kaylee gearing up for this big revenge trek and dealing with the effects of her sister being taken, but that’s not maintained once she sets off on her path for vengeance. It just kind of loses itself in its brutality and never takes the time again to delve deeper into Kaylee’s experience as she spirals into this world. Also, the ending is a tad underwhelming as it provides a dreamlike wrap-up that stands out for some of the emotion it brings and the atmospheric feel, but just doesn’t leave a satisfying impact.
Although it carries some shortcomings in its story depth, “Catch the Fair One” is still a standout revenge thriller largely in part to Kubota Wladyka’s darker, realistic vision and Reis’ dominating yet vulnerable presence.