A fascinatingly subversive take on the rape-revenge fantasy film.
It takes 10 minutes for Ms. 45`s title character to get raped twice within the same day. In other words, director Abel Ferrara doesn`t waste time establishing his protagonist`s horrible situation. Thana (Zoë Tamerlis Lund) is a mute seamstress who, while walking home, is pulled into an alley and raped by a masked man (Ferrara himself in a brief cameo(!)). She comes home distraught, only to find that another man has broken into her apartment. While Thana is getting violated a second time, she kills the man in self-defense.
Ferrara`s film was panned upon its release in 1981. Now, over thirty years later, it`s getting a deserved re-release. Ms. 45 definitely belongs in the exploitation genre, but don`t assume it`s as shallow or silly as other films with the same label. Ferrara`s film is a fascinatingly subversive take on the rape-revenge fantasy movie, one that veers between cheesy and horrifying while being genuinely entertaining the whole way through.
Lund, who pulls off an amazing performance without ever speaking a word, is in complete shock after her ordeal. “I just wish they would leave me alone” she writes in a note to her co-worker. The co-worker thinks she’s referring to their higher-ups when Thana is really talking about men. Ferrara makes sure that we understand exactly what Thana means. Men seemingly line up on the streets, ready to pounce on any woman they find a worthy target. Is Ferrara portraying a ridiculous and laughably exaggerative version of NYC, or is the film being shown through Thana’s highly subjective point of view? It’s difficult to tell, and most of this weird middle ground is where Ms. 45 gets a lot of its intrigue.
The black and white morals of Thana murdering her attacker soon begin to blur. She starts going out every night with her gun, shooting down any man she deems worthy enough to die. Eventually her targets don’t really seem deserving of their fate. Sometimes they’re overly flirty men, other times they might be seen complaining about an ex or kissing their girlfriend. The fact that Ferrara and screenwriter Nicholas St. John show Thana owning her sexuality as the body count grows throws yet another wrench into the film’s morals. Lund’s transformation from someone shy and reserved to a lipstick-wearing femme fatale is astounding to watch.
It’s a shame that Ms. 45 didn’t stand out among the pack of exploitation films when it came out (Death Wish seems to have had a heavy influence on this movie) since it has a level of intelligence and playfulness to it that elevates it above schlock. Granted, there are some clunky moments, and Thana’s landlord is a bafflingly terrible character, but there’s enough going on to make those forgivable. Ferrara throws in a lot of interesting imagery (the film’s climax is filled with them, including one truly surprising one that might go over a lot of people’s heads), and he provides one of the more disgusting takes on New York City seen on film. Fans of exploitation shouldn’t miss this transgressive gem.