Real-life boxing champion Kali Reis makes an indelible impression here as both the lead actor and the co-writer of this dark, unsettling if slightly predictable tale of revenge, violence and sex trafficking, directed and co-written by Josef Kubota Wladyka. Sure, the protagonist she plays goes by the not-dissimilar Kaylee or KO, is also a boxer and has the same half-Native American, half-Cape Verdean ethnic background as Reis. But it takes proper acting talent, boosted by strong direction from Wladyka, to pull the film along the way Reis does. She’s vulnerable, frightening and relentlessly physical.
First met being prepped for a fight by her trainer (Shelly Vincent, also a real-life boxer), 29-year-old Kaylee’s career is nearly at an end. If she’s made any money out of it, then that clearly went up her arm in a drug habit she’s only recently kicked, judging by the women’s shelter where she sleeps with a razor tucked inside her cheek just in case someone jumps her in the night.
During the day, she waitresses in a diner; but Kaylee is consumed with one overriding ambition, and that’s to find out what happened to her younger sister Weeta (Mainaku Borrero) who went missing some time ago. Her mother Jaya (Kimberly Guerrero) runs a support group – all seemingly Indigenous people like herself, judging by a pan around the room – who all have missing women in their lives. Many of the missing are probably trafficked, and a wall full of missing posters suggests the scale of problem. This tracks with actual statistical fact, but as a baddie says chillingly later on, no one is looking for them because no one cares. Kaylee ends up using herself as bait to find out what happened to Weeta, with ambiguous results.
Director Wladyka has worked on both Narcos and Narcos: Mexico, as well as Dirty Hands, a feature about drug smugglers. Clearly, he has a knack for filming crime stories, especially where they overlap with tales of exploitation and the dispossessed underclass. The upstate New York location, filmed in winter so everything is covered in snow and everyone wears parkas and woolly hats, represents a setting that you wouldn’t expect for a story on this kind of topic.