Tuesday, June 30, 2015

DIRTY WEEKEND (1993) - Michael Winner


British director Michael Winner made his name in America directing male-centered vigilante films, most notably the first three films in the diminishing returns Death Wish series. The women in these films were generally victims-- wives, daughters, girlfriends. They were there to be hastily violated or murdered in the first reel (often both) so that Charles Bronson could suit up in his trench coat, his stocking cap and his Magnum and spend the rest of film taking revenge in their stead. Dirty Weekend (based on the controversial novel by Helen Zahavi) finds Winner on familiar avenging turf but this time in his home country of Britain and with a female protagonist for a change. This switcheroo serves him well. Apart from 1972's The Mechanic, I think it's the best Winner film I've seen.

As the opening titles so bluntly tell us: "Bella was a woman who'd had enough." She's just been dumped by a cad of a boyfriend and wants to be left alone in her new basement flat in Brighton to recoup. Instead, she's receiving disturbing phone calls from the peeper across the street (Rufus Sewell), which quickly turn from heavy breathing to outright harassment. He calls her constantly, telling her what he's going to do to her sexually, even follows her to the park to detail these future violations in person. Bella appeals to the police, but they are lax to do anything because "Tim" has yet to act upon these threats physically. In frustration, she goes to see a Persian mystic who tells her to stop waiting to be the victim. He tells her to become the predator rather than the prey.

And so begins Bella's "dirty weekend." After breaking into Tim's house and bashing his sleeping skull with a hammer on Friday, she finds she rather enjoys the predatory lifestyle and goes looking for fresh meat. Cut to a hotel bar pick-up with an overweight psychologist Saturday night that turns into a deadly BDSM tryst. Next comes a Sunday morning visit to the dentist which turns into death by automobile.

Dirty Weekend is one of the more interesting femme-avenger movies I've seen because it tracks a woman who takes revenge before the crime is committed (although "Tim" REALLY should have been given a restraining order at least). It has a sense of humor about itself, something these films so often understandably lack. Bella's "empowerment" is brutal by all means, but it's also told with a dark comedy touch. It treats her various predatory paybacks as "just a bit of fun." In that sense, it's kind of like the female companion piece to American Psycho. It'd be interesting to see Bella and Patrick Bateman go on a date.

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