There is a lot wrong with Drew Barnhardt’s Rondo. Realistically, perfect films are rare, and a film’s cinematic strengths can balance its weaknesses to produce a final product worth recommending. In the case of Rondo, I’m not sure what its successes are, but I found myself ultimately liking it.
Rondo is the story of a troubled veteran, Paul (Luke Sorge), living with his sister Jill (Brenna Otts). He suffers from PTSD and Jill is the only one who’ll look after him. Paul’s current therapy comes in the form of alcoholism. Because this is her brother, she reminds Paul that the condition of living with her is no drugs or drinking and sets up an appointment with a therapist (Gena Shaw).
While this is all happening, Paul’s journey of recovery is accompanied by a disembodied voiceover (Steve Van Beckum). The narration is akin to a dime-store novel provided play-by-play and color commentary. Also, a little distracting is the upbeat score providing musical background Paul’s emotional plunge to rock bottom. The odd choice in music would imply that we shouldn’t take the coming events very seriously (which might be intentional).
Paul’s new therapist suggest a new kind of treatment for PTSD. She suggests that Paul should get laid and gives him a referral to an apartment, where he can seek treatment. At this apartment, Paul and two other “clients” meet the night’s organizer, Lurdell (Reggie De Morton). After signing an NDA, Lurdell informs the gentlemen that the man standing next to him, Mr. Tim (Kevin Sean Ryan), has agreed to offer his wife (Iva Nora) to the gentlemen, provided they follow a long list of conditions, including Mr. Tim gets to watch, no condoms, and the men have to cum inside his wife. Mrs. Tim stands with them looking drugged and despondent.
“…grabs a sledgehammer and proceeds to murder the current gentleman banging Mrs. Tim…”
Waiting his turn, Paul peeks in on the love-making session already in progress. Mrs. Tim shows no emotion during the act, Mr. Tim is creepily looking on, and Lurdell grabs a sledgehammer and proceeds to murder the current gentleman banging Mrs. Tim. Paul gets out of there fast, but Lurdell has his sister’s address from the NDA. Along with his associate DeShawn (Ketrick “Jazz” Copeland), Lurdell pays Paul and Jill a visit.
It is here we find out that the film is not about Paul, but it’s really about Jill. This was just a long prologue to a story of revenge. Revenge on Lurdell and his gang in response to witnessing the murder of her brother.
Let keep going about Rondo’s weaknesses. The acting feels scripted like people reciting lines without emotion. There is a great deal of gore, and the deaths, while grisly in nature, would drive fans of Mythbusters crazy. How many times must you hit someone over the head with a crowbar to render them unconscious? I would say once, but apparently, it’s ten. How about setting a body on fire with gasoline in a way that will not cause any smoke damage? Impossible. It just goes on-and-on.
Then there’s the pace. Action films today are fast paced with a blinding series of annoying quick cuts (which is a discussion for another day). Rondo moves very slowly telling its story. And to stretch things out further, Its action sequences shot in slow motion. The dialogue is not rushed with deliberate pauses between characters. It’s slow.
“…there is an odd charm to the film. I can’t explain how…”
As mentioned earlier, there’s a lot wrong with Rondo, but there is an odd charm to the film. I can’t explain how but I just sat there glued to the screen unable to turn away. I just accepted the film’s flaws and implausible situations in anticipation of what happens next.
For all its flaws, there are things in Rondo that worked. Writer/director Drew Barnhardt masterfully creates moments of tension and suspense with a low budget and a few practical effects. The opening murder sequence was well constructed and exceptional camera composition. His work comes across best when Jill attempts to hide from Lurdell and DeShawn as they search her home looking for Paul. She has to move from one hiding spot to another. Clearly, the sequence was storyboarded for maximum tension, and his use of lighting and contrasting lighting is a joy to watch. Even if, in reality, they could have easily found her.
The slow-motion gore is fun to watch with a fountain of gunshot squibs and blood packs that could rival the Bellagio in Vegas. This bloody mess is slow and relentless making good use of a limited effects budget.
Brenna Otts is engaging as Jill. Her acting is strong considering the dialogue she has to delivers. A great deal of performance is on her face. Be sure to pay close attention to her “transformation” scene between the first two acts. Not sure how much longer in this climate we’ll find torturing women through sexual humiliation is going to last, but Otts is pretty badass wielding an AR-15 in bra and panties.
I suspect that most won’t agree with my positive assessment of Rondo. I get that. This low-budget thriller is worth a view, once you lower your expectations a dozen notches.
Rondo (2018) Written and directed by Drew Barnhardt. Starring Brenna Otts, Luke Sorge, Steve Van Beckum, Reggie De Morton, Gena Shaw.
6 out of 10 stars