Having been spied on and harassed by a local pervert, Bella finally has enough. She transforms herself in to an avenging angel equipped with a hammer, eradicating the world of problem men.
Justly vilified on release as a piece of asinine exploitation trumped up as a feminist tract, this is an ugly movie indeed. Helen Zahavi’s novel had already stirred furious debate as to whether it is simply a vile piece of wish fulfilment or a genuine exploration of female predicament in a world fraught with male-orientated peril. That it was picked up by controversial director Michael Winner, best known for his own series of vigilante operas, the Death Wish films, and derided as a filmmaker of little subtlety and, often, grave misjudgement, was never going to end well. He made of this deranged tale of a victimised woman’s violent revenge amongst the low-lit streets of Brighton, a horrible, lurid film made all the more indigestible by its pretence at relevance.
If you were going to try and disinter some meaning from its procession of nasty images, you could assemble an argument that Bella (played with befuddled intent by Lia Williams) tormented by Rufus Sewell’s vile peeper, and his hideous intentions, is on an extreme form of feminist retribution — to castrate all men and leave the world a better place. But, in Winner’s hands, there feels little difference in the behaviour of the men and her rebirth as a vigilante. The film is incapable of shifts in tone, everything feels equally as grubby and indistinct, just rubbing our faces in the indecency of human nature. Where does Winner get off? Is he daring to expose us to feelings we don’t want to admit to, or is he titillated by his own outrageousness? Bella’s empowerment is to transform herself into the equivalent of the hungry, pathetic, dangerous men who cross her path. How is that any kind of betterment? The film, with its bitter examination of depravity, is a depressing event.
A coterie of good actors seem willing to humiliate themselves, including Michael Coles as a fat professor ridiculed for his premature ejaculation until he turns on Bella and David McCallum as a dentist who forces her to give him a blowjob. Both are dealt with, their sordid behaviour answered. Winner, however, is merely juggling the book’s jagged idea, shooting in a flat, unappealing light, so that even stylistically the film can’t even flare into the deliberate ghastliness of a horror film. He fails — or is that refuses? — to engage with the shock value of this liberation fantasy, to test its boundaries, only shoving it roughly into your face.
It's easy to forget that Winner made his name as a director and not an insurance ad man.