Get My Gun, the first narrative feature from documentary filmmaker Brian Darwas, begins as one kind of film and ends as something different. Along the way, it introduces at least one great character played by star Kate Hoffman giving one of my favorite performances of the year. What seems on paper to be a standard rape-revenge film is much more of a character drama—albeit one with plenty of blood and brutality before all is said and done.
We first meet Amanda (Hoffman) dressed as a nun on Halloween, pushing a baby in a swing. She sees a man she seems to recognize. She makes a phone call. “Get my gun,” she says. She grabs the man and the film flashes back an unspecified amount of time, when Amanda is working as a housekeeper in a sketchy hotel and training a new employee, Rebecca (Christy Casey), with whom she becomes fast friends. They hang out, they talk about their lives, they play pranks on one another. Then, one day, Amanda is attacked while cleaning a room. It is awful, but director Darwas is merciful enough to make the camera look away, to not force us to bear witness. We know what is happening, and that is horrifying enough.
Where Get My Gun goes after that, I don’t want to say. There are unexpected developments and the introduction of a new character, a doctor (Rosanne Rubino), who wants something from Amanda and begins behaving strangely. By opening the film the way he does, writer/director Darwas makes us think we know where the movie is heading and what it’s all building to, but we would be wrong to think that. The uncertainty creates a sense of dread far more uneasy than a standard rape-revenge film, in which the sickness in our gut comes from knowing that something terrible is coming. In Get My Gun, we feel like something terrible is coming but we have no idea what that is, an all-too-rare feat in exploitation.
I keep referring to the movie as being “exploitation,” but that’s only because it exists within that framework. Aside from the basic setup and some of the violence, there’s little about Get My Gun that looks or feels like traditional exploitation. Darwas (who, in addition to writing and directing the movie, also edited and contributed to the excellent synth score) and cinematographer Mary Perrino ignore the grittiness and sensationalism of the subgenre, instead opting for a kind of intimacy achieved through the use of a participatory Steadicam and super widescreen compositions. They shoot the film more like an indie drama than a horror film, which helps us grow closer to the characters than we normally might and makes their eventual fates all the more horrifying.
It is ultimately that attention to character that makes Get My Gun special. By spending so much time developing Amanda and Rebecca as good, likable, but flawed people, the filmmakers ensure our investment in their plight when things inevitably go bad. Kate Hoffman, a Lizzie Caplan type minus the acerbic remove, is effortlessly natural and authentic at the movie’s center, creating a character who is forced to continually face a mounting series of atrocities but deals with them with brave assuredness of a born survivor. She’s so, so good. I love the friendship between her and Christy Casey, which feels believable and lived-in and free of the manufactured drama that so many films feel must be applied to depictions of female friendships. While it is a revenge film in its way, Get My Gun is also about friendship, about what it means to be a parent, and even acts as a commentary on the political debate over who feels entitled to make choices about what a woman can and cannot do with her own body.
In case I haven’t made Get My Gun sound like a movie that lives up to its title, or its excellent ’70s-inspired opening and closing credits, or like it’s the kind of movie that belongs at a genre festival like Cinepocalypse, rest assured that it does get there eventually. And when the blood flows, we feel it more because Brian Darwas, Kate Hoffman, and everyone else involved in the making of the movie has made sure that it matters. It’s real human violence, not violence for its own sake. By using the tropes of an exploitation film to sneak in a smart, human story, Get My Gun sets itself apart.
Movie Score: 3.5/5
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