Title: SUCKER PUNCH
Date of Theatrical Release: 25 March 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Since the first trailer was released at San Diego’s Comic-Con last July, this movie has been at the top of the Unimonster’s eagerly awaited list, thus there was no question that I would be comfortably ensconced in my local theater on opening night. My expectations were high for Zack Snyder’s latest offering, after having been amazed by both 300 and THE WATCHMEN. And I’m pleased to say that he exceeded those expectations.
First, let me say that I went into the film well aware both of what it was, and wasn’t. If one chooses to see this movie expecting a tightly-plotted, cohesive story and great acting—well, they might be disappointed with what they get. If the viewer, however, expects what Snyder is so obviously serving up, at least, based on every promo and trailer I’ve seen, then they’ll be more than happy with the movie. And what might that be, one wonders? What Snyder (who also wrote the screenplay, along with Steve Shibuya) is so capably offering his audience is a videogame—a visual feast that explodes in the mind like a light-storm. It is a confection for the brain, one that requires very little thought devoted to following what plot there is—it’s best to just sit back and enjoy it.
The story follows a young woman referred to only as “Babydoll” (Emily Browning). It begins with a silent sequence—only the musical score perfectly accompanies the action on-screen as her mother is dying—indeed, our first view of her mother is as the sheet is being drawn over her now lifeless body. Both Babydoll and her younger sister are left in the dubious care of their stepfather (Gerard Plunkett), whom one is given cause to believe is responsible for the death of his wife. These suspicions become more firm when we see the stepfather reading the mother’s will—everything, a vast fortune, is left to her daughters. In a rage, the stepfather storms to Babydoll’s room, his intentions made clear when he sees her there in her pajamas.
She fights off his advances, leaving bloody scratches down the side of his face. He then looks to her sister’s room and with an evil grin locks Babydoll in her room. She climbs out the window, in the midst of a driving rainstorm, retrieves a pistol from a desk drawer, and confronts her stepfather just as he’s dragging her sister from her hiding place. She fires, missing him, but her sister falls to the floor, dead. She runs from the house to the nearby grave of her mother, where the police catch up to her.
Her stepfather commits her to a mental institution, where he secretly contracts with a corrupt orderly named Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac) to have his stepdaughter lobotomized. While there’s no doctor on staff that will do the procedure, there is one that visits occasionally; he’ll be there in five days. Five days, and Babydoll won’t even know her own name, much less anything that can hurt the old man.
The horror of her circumstance causes the girl to retreat into her own mind, creating an alternate reality that is the setting for much of the film. Gone is the asylum, transformed into a nightclub-slash-brothel. Babydoll has been sold to the owner, a man named Blue. But she’s told she’ll be there only five days, at the end of which a mysterious “High Roller” will come for her. She’s soon befriended by other girls there—Rocket, Amber, and Blondie (Jena Malone, Jamie Chung, and Vanessa Hudgens), who help her to understand what is expected of her in this place. Only Rocket’s older sister, Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), is stand-offish towards the new addition, even after Babydoll rescues Rocket from being raped by the cook.
When the woman who trains and oversees the young ladies of the establishment, Madame Gorski (Carla Gugino), informs Babydoll that all the girls must dance for the customers, she discovers yet another reality within herself, one that might hold the key to her freedom. As she begins to sway hypnotically to the music Gorski plays for her, she finds herself in the snow-covered courtyard of an ancient Japanese castle. She enters the castle, and is greeted by an elderly wise man (Scott Glenn, with the best performance in the movie). He tells her that, in order to gain her freedom, she must find five items—a map, fire, a knife, a key, and a fifth item, a mystery, one that only she can solve. He gives her a Japanese Katana and a Colt 1911A1 pistol, to use in her quest for freedom. As he closes the door on her, he adds, “Oh, and one more thing … Defend yourself.”
Stylistically, Snyder creates a uniquely hallucinatory landscape for his characters to inhabit, one that seamlessly blends diverse environments and the creatures that populate them into a visually orgiastic whole. It is a world where the girls do battle, using both modern weapons and swords, in World War I trenches against the Steampunk-inspired reanimated corpses of dead German soldiers, and a B-25 bomber engages in air-to-air combat with an enraged mother dragon. It makes no sense, but then, it doesn’t need to. It’s the creation of a young girl’s tortured psyche, struggling to find a place where she is powerful enough to strike back against those who seek to harm her, and overcome her fate.
The grimness and despair of the brothel is offset by the fantasy worlds the girls escape into whenever Babydoll dances. The CGI, which is usually the weakest link in films of this type, is spectacularly executed, helping the viewer with the necessary suspension of disbelief. And the music is as much a part of creating these environments as is the imagery. As Snyder has stated, “… music is the thing that launches them into these fantasy worlds.”
I loved this movie, because I got exactly what I had hoped it would be, what I said I expected four months ago. “I don’t know what the full story is, or if there is a story. From what I’ve seen so far, I can’t say I really care about a story. This movie looks to be pure mind-candy, a psychedelic light-show for the eyes [2010 in Review, 1 January 2011].” If you go into it expecting to see what Snyder is offering, then my bet is you’ll love it too.