Tainted has one of the most insane, homoerotic posters I’ve seen in quite some time. It’s a shame, then, that the movie itself is more subdued than its marketing material implies. The needlessly complicated story of a reformed neo-Nazi who’s hired by the Russian mafia to dispatch with his own ex-brothers, Tainted is neither as exciting nor, thankfully, as exploitative as that description suggests. Whether that’s a good thing or not will depend on your propensity for this style of nuts and bolts thriller, where the grit is so thick you might as well be cleaning gravel out your eyes after watching.
Our antihero is Lance (Alan Van Sprang, who had bit parts in the likes of Saw III and Diary of the Dead, as well as a successful career on TV), recently-released after spending 15 years behind bars for killing someone he shouldn’t have. Now quietly making ends meet in a snowy Canadian town, Lance just wants to forget his violent past and move on. Only problem is, nobody will let him, including the Black tattoo artist he approaches to cover the prominent swastika inked on his chest (swastika tattoos are still so shocking, and this is the second movie, after Becky, in as many weeks to feature one prominently).
One day, he’s cornered by local kingpin Vladimir (John Rhys-Davies, who played Gimli in the Lord of the Rings movies, who’s not to be confused with Irish actor Jonathan Rhys-Davies, though his “Russian” accent does sound a bit like Liam Neeson at times), who tasks Lance with killing local members of the Aryan Brotherhood in retaliation for their recent attack on the Russians. If he does it (like he has a choice), Lance will finally earn his freedom for real. If he refuses, they’ll kill the only friend he has in the world, songstress Anna (Sara Waisglass, an alumnus of the recent Degrassi reboot and a hell of a singer in her own right) who lives a few doors down from him in a grotty motel.
The setup is hardly original, though the Nazis versus Russian mafia twist does give it a certain something extra. Tainted has the feeling of a grindhouse exploitation movie but, at the same time, the emphasis is on retribution rather than violence for the sake of violence. Things kick off with a quote from Pope Francis that, although well-intentioned, is the kind of meaningless, reductive, and frankly naive take only employed by the kinds of people who also believe you can pray the hate away. Thankfully, the film doesn’t take that approach. Lance is neither 100 percent saint nor sinner.
The central relationship isn’t romantic either, which is a relief considering just this week we collectively baulked at the revelation Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfriend were playing partners in an upcoming horror movie. Both Van Sprang and Waisglass bring an emotional vulnerability to their roles, even though Anna rarely gets to do much beyond the stage. Lance and Anna are on the fringes of society for very different reasons, but the correlation between the two characters isn’t hammered home to the point of irritation. There’s even a suggestion they might not find solace in each other after all is said and done.
Tainted isn’t clear at first whether Lance is infiltrating his old club or simply going in to kill his targets, which sets the movie apart from the likes of the Daniel Radcliffe-starring Imperium. It also robs it of the necessary stakes required to become invested in Lance’s journey as a character. There’s plenty of double crossing, but when everybody is a second away from turning on each other, it makes it difficult to care what any of them are doing (aside from the weedy Malick, played by The Void star Aaron Poole, who is so annoying his inevitable death can’t come quickly enough).
More scene setting is required, and far more character development, for Tainted to properly make an impact. Its gay porno style poster looks even crazier considering how quiet and character-driven the movie is. There’s even an emotionally-charged moment of understanding between Lance and his menacing boss, which again sparks interest about their relationship and what we could learn about it if only the story was more focused. At the same time, watching Lance dispatch with Nazi scumbags is immensely satisfying — the film could’ve arguably done with more of it — and a climactic battle in a lumber yard is shot through with plenty of pizzazz.
The cinematography by Kevin Rasmussen is best in these moments, bathing the screen in pinks and purples. Elsewhere, it’s reasonably chilly and infused with blue for the exteriors, scuzzy and brown for the interiors, striking a clean balance between what happens behind closed doors and otherwise. The script is clunky — “All he gave me was bad dreams,” Anna tells Lance of her abusive father — but the performances rise above it to offer Tainted something resembling a consistent tone. It aims for a darker Fargo and settles in somewhat warmer territory. The film is neither nasty enough to qualify as a proper crime thriller nor sufficiently involving to be a genuine story of retribution.
There’s far too much diegetic music utilized throughout, almost as though writer-director Brent Cote didn’t trust his premise enough to just let it breathe. Still, he coaxes strong performances from the small ensemble cast, the frozen Canadian tundra is beautifully captured, and although the story is slight and barely developed, Tainted is a pleasant enough watch that doesn’t demand too much of its audience.
Catch Tainted on VOD from June 16, 2020
WICKED RATING: 6/10
Director(s): Brent Cote
Writer(s): Brent Cote
Stars: Alan Van Sprang, John Rhys-Davies, Sara Waisglass, Aaron Poole
Release date: June 16, 2020 (VOD)
Studio/Production Company: Cote Entertainment
Run Time: 89 minutes