Film review: JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE, from Built For Speed

John Doe: Vigilante is bound to divide audiences and evoke volatile reactions for both its subject matter and its film-making style.

Taking perhaps too many thematic and plot cues from 90’s serial killer films such as Natural Born Killers and Seven, the film follows an Aussie vigilante killer calling himself John Doe who murders assorted criminals who he thinks have escaped justice.  The story is told via Wayne Gayle-style interviews with John by brash TV journo Ken Rutherford (Lachy Hulme) as well as flashbacks and footage of John’s crimes. As Doe’s murderous activities go viral, he gains perverse public support which grows into a vigilante movement and a string of copycat crimes.

The film touches on but doesn’t examine in great depth some potent issues concerning the justice system, the breakdown of community and the malleable nature of truth and morality, particularly in the context of a sensationalist mass media and a rapidly changing world of the internet.  The fact that the film debates these issues raises it above right-wing revenge drivel such as The Equaliser but its moral perspective is still ambiguous to say the least.  A little too often the film seems to endorse murderous vigilantism and to dismiss the notion of an objective legal system.

After a very shaky start the film finds its feet and delivers some impressively tense moments.   For those squeamish about screen violence this film does contain some confronting scenes but much of the violence is implied and off-camera.

While this film draws themes, plot elements and in some cases scenes from films like Seven , Natural Born Killers and Cape Fear it, unfortunately lacks the visual style of those disturbing American crime classics.  To be fair this is a low budget film and director Kelly Dolen does his best with the available resources but the cheap look is occasionally distracting.

John Doe: Vigilante also isn’t an acting feast and disappointingly much of it is played in typically broad Aussie style.  Still, the film benefits from having a charismatic pro like Hulme in most scenes and he tends to steal the movie from Jamie Bamber who plays John Doe.

John Doe: Vigilante’s mixed messages and uneven technical qualities will irritate some cinema-goers but the film’s confronting nature makes it difficult for audiences to simply dismiss it as a throwaway cheapie.  The film has enough impressive moments to suggest an interesting future for director Dolen.

Nick’s rating: **1/2.

Genre: Action/ horror.

Classification: CTC.

Director(s): Kelly Dolen.

Release date: 16th Oct 2014

Running time:  93 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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