Never Back Down: Revolt review – oddly empowering woman-a-mano combat | Movies


Here is a brutally violent but oddly empowering tale of trafficked women compelled to kick the hell out of each other or else get sent to an Albanian brothel. (Pity poor Albania, which gets chosen to be the film-makers’ idea of the worst possible place ever to be in a brothel.) It is part of a pulpy, under-the-radar film franchise series that revolves around illegal, or semi-legal, fight clubs and mixed martial arts (MMA) bouts that usually pit men against their friends and fellow athletes. Their USP is hardcore hand-to-hand combat, with lots of crunchy foley work providing the sounds of pounded flesh, while still celebrating athletic prowess, loyalty to friends and family and a kind of gladiatorial honour.

This latest instalment serves up more of the same, but with women doing most of the punching, stabbing and roundhouse kicks to the head; there are also two women in the screenwriter and director’s chairs, Audrey Arkins and Kellie Madison respectively. The heroine is Chechen refugee Anya (Olivia Popica), who is hoping to get a nursing degree and lives in a tiny flat with her fierce but dim MMA-fighter brother Aslan (Tommy Bastow). When Aslan, the twit, fails to throw a fight like he’s told, the siblings find themselves in debt to evil posh lady Mariah (Brooke Johnston, channelling Ghislaine Maxwell). Mariah persuades Anya, a scrapper in her own right, to take part in some private bouts for the delectation of sadistic rich men who will pay even more to watch pretty ladies beat the daylights out of each other. Of course, it turns out to be a trap and the women are all locked up with each other in a jail and threatened with the aforementioned Albanian brothel option if they don’t cooperate. But plucky Anya starts planning an escape.

Pulpy nonsense, to be sure, but, somehow, this is eminently watchable, and it’s a relief there’s no sexual abuse shown, even if the possibility of it exists. Moreover, it’s interesting and kind of sweet that there’s no love interest for Anya to moon over. Instead, the most significant relationships in the film are between her and her brother, and then later between the women locked up in the makeshift prison, who decide to stop fighting each other and work together to overthrow the patriarchy – sorry, overthrow their traffickers. The metaphor is baked into the story whichever way you slice it.

Never Back Down: Revolt is available on 21 February on digital platforms.

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