Joey (Kiersey Clemons) is a small-town waitress ambling through a rather mundane life. After she is sexually assaulted by someone she once considered a friend, she can no longer smile through her boring life.
A café regular, Regina (X-Men: Apocalypse’s Alexandra Shipp), notices the change in her personality and discomfort around her former friend (Riverdale’s Casey Cotts). She takes her on a trip to meet the Cherry Bomber gang, a group of badass women who are on a mission to reclaim their power. These vigilantes have a mission to take down the system that enables and encourages the behaviours of rapists.
Trauma is what connects these ladies, who all come from different social classes, races, and parts of America. Some of their stories we hear, others are merely touched upon in passing. Run by fierce matriarchs Sal (Radha Mitchell) and Fala (Casey Camp-Horinek), the group is formed by the inherently angry Beatrice (Spring Breaker’s Vanessa Hudgens), Rudy (an underused American History Story’s Gabourey Sidibe), sensitive burns= victim Lily (Leslie Stratton) and the underwritten Jett (Leyna Bloom).
The main target of their vigilante behaviour is Mark Vanderhill (Ezra Miller). He is an incel superstar, broadcasting his vile misogyny to thousands of internet followers. He encourages men to lash out at women rather than become accountable for their behaviour. His cult-like following has created an army of men who believe they are victims because they are being forced to respect women and minorities. The most chilling thing about the internet clips woven through Asking For It is just how real they seem.
The villains of the story are well-rounded, Miller portraying Mark with a cocky bravado that means his menacing behaviour could so easily be misconstrued as joking. The police chief Morill (David Patrick Kelley) is little less than an old racist who works with the incel movement because they share enough of the same beliefs. Luke Hemsworth makes the most of his thankless supporting turn as Sal’s ex, a well-intentioned if misguided police officer.
For a film about the power of women, the Cherry Bombers lack any type of character or chemistry. These women are solely defined by their past trauma and their cool outfits, existing solely in the extreme. They don’t appear to have any interests or stories outside of how men wronged them and how they will pay for their actions. Thankfully the film is diverse in casting, otherwise, you might not be able to tell these women apart.
Despite the thinly written women, Clemons accurately depicts the inner turmoil of the aftermath of an assault. Hudgens is effortlessly cool as Beatrice, whilst Shipp manages to somehow be ethereal and badass. Considering the feminist message of this film, it’s a little disconcerting that they are filmed in such a sexual way. Yes, they are fearless and weapons trained, but they also have immaculate hair, wear sexy pleather outfits and wear smoky eye makeup that is untouched by anything. In some ways, Asking For It exists in the Euphoria world of style over character development.
Asking For It shares a lot of DNA with Promising Young Woman and Assassination Nation, it’s a brand of controversially radical and violent feminism that demands justice no matter the result. In place of having any type of pathos or character development, there are lots of mini music videos of the women drinking and partying. Some of the time spent posing under pink-hued neon lights to the sound of palatable pop could have been spent rounding out these women and forwarding the plot.
For his debut film, the director and writer, Eamon O’ Rourke, spends too much time creating an aesthetically pleasing world and not enough giving his flat heroines personalities or things to do. The plot only really kicks into gear 40 minutes into the film, but while Asking For It was made with good intentions, this deeply traumatising subject for so many women should have been crafted with care.
Asking For It opens in theatres and on-demand on March 4
by Amelia Harvey
Amelia is a freelance writer, frustrated novelist and occasional wrangling of international students. She is especially interested in LBGTQ culture and 1960s and 70s music. She also writes for Frame Rated, The People’s Movies and Unkempt Magazine, amongst others. Her favourite films include Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Moulin Rouge and Closer. You can find her on Twitter @MissAmeliaNancy and letterboxd @amelianancy