Everly, Baby: Lynch’s Grindhouse Glory Shoots Blanks
If Pam Grier had starred in a 1970’s version of Oldboy directed by Jack Hill, it probably would’ve looked something like Everly, actor/producer/editor/cinematographer Joe Lynch’s sophomore effort as film director. Playing like an homage to those cheapie exploitation classics of the vintage grindhouse era, there’s an element of admiration for Lynch’s product, which, at least superficially, appears to honor its battered but resilient female protagonist by eschewing gratuitous nudity and attempting to grant her a character arc that extends beyond her desirable body (though this is accomplished only via typical fashion, i.e. her maternal instinct). But by keeping the action of the film confined to one rundown, grimy apartment in a complex apparently on lockdown a la The Raid or Dredd, no matter of grisly violence can secure our visual absorption through the film’s already slim running time.
Everly (Salma Hayek), a prostitute that’s been locked in the same apartment for the past four years, has just been violated by a group of men that seem intent on killing her. Fleeing to the bathroom, she finds a gun hidden in the toilet and successfully annihilates her assailants. After the initial bullet ballet, we learn that her ticket out is in the form of a detective trying to secure her as a witness against the mob boss Taiko (Hiroyuki Watanabe) that owns her. But Taiko has no intention of letting her survive, which instigates Everly to reach out to her mother, who cares for her young daughter, and request she come fetch a bag of cash from the apartment building before Everly is killed.
Everly, much like the ‘heroines’ portrayed by Pam Grier, is of the type of female characterization consistently referred to as ‘bad-ass,’ a lady ‘action star,’ a counter for the macho male star. Yet, she is anything but. On the defense, bruised and battered, raped and commodified for her beauty or body, Everly is the type of female that has no agency, and no amount of gunplay is going to grant her equal status to the men that have wronged her. Female driven revenge flicks, such as the archetype often referenced in I Spit On Your Grave, is also a false comparison.
Men seek retribution for harm done to their women, their children, or the disruption of their heteronormative comfort. Rarely are they motivated solely in response to violence, much less sexual violence, against their beings. As beautiful, as competent, as ‘kick-ass’ as Salma Hayek certainly happens to be in the role, she has no agency. To tack on maternal motivation only solidifies the lack of competency behind the derivation of her character, as her will to live can only be defined through her feelings for another.
Why it’s taken Everly four years to retaliate isn’t quite rationally explained, though the off screen gang rape that we hear as the film opens suggests she’s reached a breaking point. Left to chat with the sole survivor of the shootout until her daughter and mother arrive to fetch a passel of money, Lynch veers the film into black comedic territory. But since Everly can’t physically escape the building, this culminates in a series of happenings that seem designing only to waste the time. Taiko puts a hit on Everly’s head, which leads to other prostitutes (one played by Jennifer Biehn) in the building barging in with intentions to kill her. Worse, a completely unnecessary sequence featuring Togo Igawa as a character known as The Sadist is ridiculous and silly. It’s the kind of empty sleaze that feels designed to pad out the running time, something that would have been excised from a more robust feature.
Hayek is generally entertaining and remains a unique screen presence, though her inclusion makes one wish the production had been more worthy of her talent. The level of sexual exploitation negates even the vengeful pleasure Everly is gunning for, and with its drab visual palette and ceaseless repetition of violence, there’s little to recommend.