Through the ‘60s and ‘70s, exploitation films offered a seedy alternative to Hollywood’s slick epics. Independently produced, these rampant attacks on society’s morals ran at grindhouses, drive-ins and art houses, offering lurid tales of street violence, revenge, rape, and cannibalism. Slasher films took over in the ‘80s, but in the ‘90s slowly faded into obscurity as Quentin Tarantino made the concept mainstream. A recent resurgence, however, has brought back the days of gratuitous ugliness in film, offering lurid B-movies to a generation of millennials who’ve never seen a movie without CGI. With The Russian Bride, director Michael S. Ojeda brings sleazy cinema into the present, delivering on the nasty themes of the past while keeping a modern visual style.
Oksana Orlan plays Nina, a desperate single mother with a troubled relationship history seeking a better life for her and daughter Dasha (Kristina Pimenova) via an international dating website. Karl Frederick (Corbin Bernsen), a solitary billionaire, offers the escape she seeks and brings her to the US to be his wife. Nina and Dasha marvel at Karl’s massive estate and running water. Everything seems idyllic despite the strange servants until Karl’s true personality manifests in a ridiculously huge cocaine habit that rivals Tony Montana’s in Scarface. Not surprisingly, his behavior becomes more erratic until the real reason for importing his new family is revealed. (No, it’s not pedophilia – that would be way too obvious.)
“…a desperate single mother with a troubled relationship seeking a better life for her and daughter…via an international dating website…”
Admittedly, The Russian Bride begins slowly, taking time to build up to what ultimately becomes an awesome gory payoff well worth the price of admission. Ojeda fully hands over the goods of opulence, sex, drug abuse, violence and even an unexpected bit of paranormal activity. It’s not politically correct or redeeming in any way. Quite the contrary, it’s the movie that sends snowflakes on social media rants and makes religious conservatives hide their erections.
Like the best exploitation films of forty-five years ago, Ojeda, whether intentionally or unintentionally, taps into relevant social commentary. In this case, it’s the immigrant’s experience in America, a country built on the very concept of open arms as long as you know your place and don’t get ahead of those who inherently deserve it for one reason or another. Nina merely wants to give her daughter the luxury of a little more space to live. She arrives to open arms, but quickly realizes she’s only a commodity to be used and tossed away. Welcome to the USA.
“…sends snowflakes on social media rants and makes religious conservatives hide their erections.…”
Ojeda’s eye keeps the camera fluid with beautiful landscape shots opposing gritty moments of cruelty. As for the performances, Bernsen and Orlan beautifully balance predator and victim, while Pimenova conjures sympathy rather than annoyance. Lisa Goodman shows an excellent amount of restraint in depicting Maria, an obsessed female servant, and Michael Robert Brandon shines as the mute Hungarian Hagan in a brilliant blend of Boris Karloff in Frankenstein and Gnaghi in Cemetery Man. Even those in smaller roles give their all to make perfection.
The Russian Bride isn’t pretty. It won’t make you feel good with carefully reconstructed points of nostalgia. It will, however, make you cheer like a fratboy watching football. Are you looking for a pat on the back or a solidly entertaining dose of reality? Figure it out before you sit down because this is one awesome ride.
The Russian Bride Directed by Michael S. Ojeda. Written by Michael S. Ojeda. Starring Oksana Orlan, Corbin Bernsen, Kristina Pimenova, Lisa Goodman and Michael Robert Brandon. The Russian Bride premiered at Festival de Cannes.
4.5 out of 5 stars