The blows of his sledgehammer raining down on the floors of St Michael’s, the church demolition worker Malky attended as a boy, with every blow the cracks spread, man born to suffer as the sparks fly upward and the dust of the past fails to settle. Any faith Malky once had extinguished and replaced with silent rage, now he shakes the very foundations of the deconsecrated building scheduled to be pulled down.
Keeping everyone at arm’s length, his best friend and workmate Jo watches over him as best he can while his relationship with on again/off again girlfriend Emma is fractious, their latest break apparently triggered by his jealousy though she knows there is another reason beneath which he will not discuss with anyone, a chance encounter with a familiar face confirmed by a newspaper report that his former priest has returned to the parish.
Directed by brothers Ludwig and Paul Shammasian from a script by Geoff Thompson, Retaliation is expanded from their 2008 short Romans 12:20, the Biblical passage which informs Malky’s course of action, guiding him back to the church and a confrontation he has deferred since he was a child, his hammer become a symbol of his righteous and justified wrath.
As Malky, Carnival Row‘s Orlando Bloom is caught on the horns of the devil, unable to heal unless he can acknowledge and overcome the past but shamed into silence, blaming himself and turning his anger inwards, his elderly mother (Kaleidoscope’s Anne Reid) blinded by her devotion to the church where she was cleaner for thirty years, telling him that judging is a sin and berating him for how his actions reflect on her standing in the community.
A tortured depiction of the long-term effects of abuse, the lack of support, the stigma attached to coming forward, the culture of victim blaming and the difficulty in prosecuting historic cases which have been buried often with the full complicity of the organisations whose members perpetrated them, Retaliation is frustratingly disingenuous in that the salvation it offers comes from within the church itself, personified by Charlie Creed-Miles’ overblown street preacher.
As good as the cast are, Bloom’s brutal performance in particular, unable to trust anyone and preferring to drown rather than reach for help, Retaliation takes too long to travel too short a distance and presents an implausible conclusion dependent on the nobility of James Smillies’ priest, unnamed presumably so that he can reflect whomever the viewer needs him to represent, perhaps even the church as a whole, but his almost abstract presence renders his penitence essentially symbolic, avoiding wider cultural accountability or change.