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This neo-Nazi melodrama is intense and moody, but it never quite gets around to making much of a point....
Kino / 100 Minutes / 2011 / Unrated / Street Date: July 9, 2013
Even before she dons her skinhead look and swastika tattoo, Marisa (Alina Levshin) in Combat Girls is tough – it’s not simply rampant racist that turns her into a violent, nightmarish ass-kicker. What director David Wendt does so deftly in his gritty, steely movie is bring up the fact that the discriminatory cabals that characters like Marisa belong to aren’t the kinds of things that pop up out of nowhere: somewhere beneath the veneer of proper modern society lies a potential for dangerous racism.
Yet what becomes fascinatingly disappointing about Combat Girls is that once we’re introduced to the underground neo-Nazi world that Marisa and her buddies lay claim to, Wendt’s film gives the impression that it doesn’t have the gumption to see this horrific story through. One watches Combat Girls hoping that these misguided youths will find some sort of turning point at which they can pivot their careening lives into something more fulfilling, but instead of painting with broad strokes in the film’s final thirty minutes, Wendt defaults to minimalism.
The effect is jarring at first – it basically paints a stark portrait of Marisa and the quicksand she’s found herself in, but in doing everything possible in an attempt to avoid any kind of end-of-story moral or societal meaning, Wendt wants the real terror of Combat Girls to lie in the shaky, baby-deer eyes of his protagonist. It’s an aggressive and laudable move, and even though it torpedoes Combat Girls a bit as a wall-to-wall motion picture, it cements the idea that racism and its off-shoots are never as cut-and-dry as they might seem.