By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.
Locked Up (2017), writer-director Jared Cohn’s brilliantly realized take on the women in prison sub-genre of exploitation film, is gritty, unflinching, no-nonsense entertainment. Boosted by a stellar, star-in-the-making portrayal from Kelly McCart as our ruggedly endearing heroine, Mallory, the eighty-six- minute picture is spectacularly well-made on all accounts. For example, the pace is pitch-perfect. The various turns in the chronicle are seamless. Even from a technical standpoint Cohn’s application, produced through The Global Asylum, is just as spellbinding. Proof of this can be unveiled in Josh Maas’ immersive and brooding cinematography. Maas’ influence compliments the gorgeously dark tone of the manufacture masterfully. The same can be said of the stirring and vastly cinematic music from Christopher Cano and Chris Ridenhour. Rob Pallatina’s editing is just as triumphant. The camera and electrical team is similarly phenomenal. Furthermore, the affair is an exemplary showcase for Cohn’s deft characterizations. Relatedly, it is filled with his trademark ear for rich, credible dialogue. This Thailand recorded endeavor also rises as a bravura demonstration of Cohn’s magnificent ability to instantly transport viewers into the quietly wounded, repressed and aggressive mind-state of his protagonist.
Such is established in an equally jarring and captivating five-minute opening sequence. It takes place in Mallory’s soon to be ex-school in Southeast Asia. The succession concerns Cohn’s lead violently attacking a peer out of vengeance and frustration. This is after the continual taunts of a group of young women become too much for our lead to bare. Such an act gets Mallory sentenced to two years in a reformatory. Yet, there is a horrific underbelly writhing beneath the sanitized veneer Mallory’s uncle, Tommy (in a terrific and charismatic turn from Cohn), whom Mallory is currently residing with, spies. This is as he explores the area Mallory will be staying to pay her debt to society alongside the soon-to-be inmate. What Mallory has yet to discover is that there is a sadistic side to the institution. It is one where the guards rape and abuse Cohn’s central figure. She is also forced to fight fellow detainees. When the promise of her freedom is introduced by a malicious higher-up in the third act, Mallory’s stakes and necessity to win increase dramatically. But, is this reward simply a ruse to get her to become more brutal and relentless in her combat? Or is this nefarious keeper simply providing another in her long line of lies to see a genuine showcase of Mallory’s conflict-oriented skill? These inquiries only add to the nail-biting attention Cohn fluently generates throughout this top-notch invention.
As can be ascertained from the plot description above, Cohn weaves an intriguing plot. It is one that revolves around the expected tropes from similar tales. Regardless, the fiction hardly comes across as anything less than groundbreaking. This is because Cohn’s execution of the piece, particularly in his mesmerizing scripting and behind the lens contributions, pushes audiences immediately into Mallory’s corner. Throughout the labor we find ourselves cheering her on to rise above her overwhelmingly grim surroundings. This as we glimpse the extent of her victimhood. Correspondingly, we impress upon ourselves her intensity and passion to do so. Such occurs via the physically and emotionally compelling components of the narrative. All of which are proportionately balanced. Likewise, the riveting incidents of hand-to-hand combat, from which every action scene in the flick is composed, ring with a teeth-gnashing authenticity. Such factors build up an ever-accruing wall of fascination. It is a captivating allure that effortlessly pulls bystanders through the runtime. It also makes the tremendously fashioned concluding twenty-minutes especially thrilling.
Further assisting matters are the electrifying performances. Katrina Grey is exceptional as Mallory’s trainer and eventual love interest, Kat. Christiana Chaiwanna as Nenita and Anastasia Maslova as Mallory’s final opponent, Riza, are terrific. Maythavee Weiss is incredible, memorable and enthrallingly nefarious as The Warden.
Packed with a relentless barrage of moments so explicit they call to mind frequently banned, cult classic features such as Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975), Cohn’s creation is harrowing even in its bleakest segments. A mid-way arrangement which details an attempted suicide in the shower is proof of the effectiveness of such elements. Yet, there is a layered artistry to the fabrication. Such makes the undergoing much more than an assembly of engagingly nerve-frying and fist-flying flashes. This is because Cohn administers a concern for Mallory. It pulsates resplendently from the first frame to the last. He also augments an always in bloom curiosity as to her plight. This extends to those who fill the screen with her. Such prevalent attributes are as noticeable in the quiet instances as they are in its rowdier episodes.
In a year that has repeatedly showcased Cohn as one of the most talented and exciting figures in independent cinema, Locked Up stands among his best work to date. The labor is uncompromising, ever-serious and powerful. Best of all, it doesn’t give into the tongue-in-cheek trappings of far too many related entries in this storytelling genus. The result of these forever welcome qualities is a superbly accomplished, adrenaline-pumping masterpiece. Cohn has crafted a must-see for fellow B-movie admirers and sincere cinephiles alike.
(Unrated). Contains graphic violence, nudity and scenes of sexuality.
Available now on Vudu and Netflix.