In 1972, author Brian Garfield experienced crime personally for the first time when his car was vandalized and wife’s purse stolen.
He was filled with rage, and felt an urge to kill whoever was responsible, despite having suffered no real harm.
Terrified by the ease with which his baser self surfaced, he wrote a book about a man who becomes a vigilante killer after his wife is murdered.
It was set in New York during an era of alarming crime and violence, when people lived in fear. Garfield hoped to illustrate how revenge is a poor solution in a civilized society.
But the movie version made in 1974 starring Charles Bronson focused more on the killing spree then the nuanced and responsible exploration of how vigilantism can lead to our collective downfall.
The author was so horrified by the film he wrote a sequel based on the character’s demise, to assuage his own guilt for having enabled such garbage (and three sequels). Critics were horrified.
Cut to 46 years later, when horror aficionado Eli Roth (best known for directing the Hostel franchise) decides its time to revisit Death Wish.
Was it to right the wrong of the original, and provide an intelligent and layered commentary on revenge and crime in the 21st century? Of course not!
The 2018 version stars Bruce Willis as Paul Kersey, a mild-mannered and affluent surgeon living in a big house in a Chicago suburb. When his family is attacked during a home invasion that leaves his daughter in a coma and his wife dead, he decides, with the help of a few handy YouTube videos, to hunt down the killers himself.
Ostensibly, he is seeking the burglars who killed his wife, but Kersey is happy to take out anyone along the way who commits any level of wrongdoing.
To add a 2018 twist, bystanders video-record his murders and they go viral. Dubbed the Grim Reaper online, he becomes part meme, part folk hero and inspires copycats around the city.
When the killing spree finally ends, the detective on his wife’s case puts the pieces together, but decides he won’t say anything if the doctor agrees to save lives again instead of taking them.
This movie is an ode to gratuitous violence, mere steps from torture porn. It exists solely for the purpose of showing us how creative Roth is at killing people in disgusting and gruesome ways, desensitizing us to the horror on screen.
Some will say, “It’s just a movie! Don’t take it so seriously.” To which I’d say, I’m the first in line for a great action/thriller movie. I understand that if you’re a spy, or in danger or Liam Neeson saving his family, fists and bullets are going to fly.
But this movie goes far beyond reasonable violence – it glamorizes revenge killing and hammers home the message that when a man is maligned in any way his only recourse is to pick up a gun and destroy.
Death Wish is a loathsome film. It should be avoided at all costs.
Vicky Sparks is a Bright’s Grove native and movie critic for Global TV’s The Morning Show, which airs nationally on Fridays. Her Journal Reviews cover movies playing at Galaxy Cinemas Sarnia