If ‘fierce’ is a film, it might be Compulsus.
Compulsus tells the story of Wally (Lesley Smith), a woman who is increasingly infuriated by stories of violence at the hands of men. Although she has never experienced it firsthand, the pain and suffering that her friends share with her set fire to her soul. When a random meeting with a known abuser leads to Wally taking matters into her own hands, she is invigorated by the experience and begins to hunt down abusive men. As her actions gain notoriety, her life becomes more complicated when she falls in love with Lou (Kathleen Dorian), a court reporter who believes in the law.
Fueled by fire and fury, Compulsus is a passionate exploration of feminine strength at a time of masculine dominance. Directed by Tara Thorne, the film takes the familiar revenge film trope and imbues it with the beating heart of justice. Part Thelma and Louise and part Bonnie and Clyde, Compulsus is not only a film that wants to start a conversation about sexual assault.
It wants to turn the tables on it.
As each of the characters extols their stories of male abuse, the rage within them begins to bubble up to the surface. And rage is an appropriate term to use here. There is a deep-seeded anger at the root of Compulsusthat drives the film. The frustration and hurt of pervasive stories of sexual assault by arrogant men gives it an edge that feels authentic. This isn’t a story for one woman but a story for all women.
One of the more interesting cinematic choices made by Thorne is the fact that none of the male characters show their faces within the film. (In fact, they’re all played by the same actor.) In doing so, Compulsus wants us to realize that it’s focused beyond one or two stories but rather the damage created by all men. To give them a face would be to set these characters apart… but that’s not the film’s intent.
It’s also fascinating to note that Compulsus tries to walk a very delicate line between justification of violence and actual justice. For example, there is a constant reminder throughout the film that this sort of uprising of violence may not only be inevitable, but also necessary. As Wally’s rampage continues, there’s a satisfaction that she gets from being the one in power. She believes in what she’s doing and is willing to exact vengeance wherever she’s needed. What’s more, she’s increasingly celebrated by her peers for her actions as well. (After all, these are men who have deserved to have their lives taken from them after they’ve taken it from women.)
At the same time, Compulsus also questions its vigilanteeism. Unlike other revenge fantasies like John Wick or The Batman, Compulsus seems wisely self-aware of its brutality. With each attack, Wally feels increasingly empowered… yet Lou is unsure. To her, revenge may feel good—but it doesn’t excuse the actions entirely. After all, by attacking the attackers, is Wally any better than they are? (Incidentally, it’s also worth asking whether or not we would question this form of revenge if a man in a cape were the one exacting it upon evildoers.)
Admittedly, Thorne isn’t entirely certain of the answer of this question. Yet, answers and procedures are not really the goal of Compulsus. Instead, this is a film which wants to express the hurt of many, spoken and unspoken, who are suffering as a result of toxic men. This is a film that feels.
Because, in Compulsus, the time for silence has ended and justice has arrived.
Compulsus is now playing at Inside Out 2022. For screening information, click here.