By: Emily von Seele
In a post-apocalyptic world, it’s important to have friends. Directed by Jovanka Vuckovic (XX) and written by Katherine Collins (Lost In Space, Blindspot), Riot Girls is a story that celebrates friendship and love and the importance of keeping one’s humanity when it can easily be lost.
The film is set in the aftermath of a horrific plague that wiped out the entire adult population. Centering on a suburban community, the kids and teens who remain behind have divided themselves into two groups: the poor kids on the East Side, who embrace a punk aesthetic and have cobbled together a little family of loners, and the more affluent West Side, who are led by a group of fascist, letter jacket-sporting jocks who call themselves the Titans (as in, their high school’s mascot). At the head of this group is Jeremy (Munro Chambers), the top dog who demands that everyone follows his rules and will go to any length to see that they are enforced.
The two groups largely stay out of each other’s way, but when paths happen to cross, it’s not a pretty sight. After Jack (Alexandre Bourgeois) — one of the leaders of the East Side — is captured by the Titans, his sister Nat (Madison Iseman), her best friend Scratch (Paloma Kwiatkowski), and their new friend Sony (Ajay Friese) must band together and infiltrate enemy territory in order to bring him home safely.
At the heart of the story is the relationship that the East Side kids have with one another. They really have come together to create a piecemeal family. They care about each other and work to keep one another safe. This is in total opposition to the Titans, who have built an army; one that is devoid of love, affection, and, most of all, choice. Everything is done according to Jeremy’s rules. Punishment for breaking them is swift and harsh. Speaking out against the system is not allowed. The two groups are the polar opposite of one another and illustrate two very distinct philosophies and styles of living that can spring up when the establishment disappears — one that puts the needs of the people above a regimented structure and one that puts the leadership front and center.
In the midst of this East Side family of weirdos is a budding queer relationship. Nat and Scratch start out as friends, but it becomes clear that there is something more between them. Their relationship develops over the course of the story and when they finally reveal their feelings, it’s a fantastically beautiful moment. Nat and Scratch complement one another perfectly — Nat with her openness and loyalty, and Scratch with her caution and tough exterior — and it’s exciting to see a queer love story take center stage.
Additionally, it’s incredibly exciting to see a female-centric film with two women taking the lead. The story flips some standard tropes of masculinity on their head, with Nat and Scratch setting out to save Jack and bring him home safely, but it’s not interested in merely gender swapping a formula. Jack is far from a damsel, but he is absolutely stuck and in need of rescue. The film is more focused on highlighting the necessity of friends and family in getting through tough times and understanding that some problems can’t be solved alone. The East Side kids have made a life out of supporting and protecting one another, and that won’t change just because the stakes are high.
This film is pure joy. It is funny, it is touching, and it is gory as all hell when the mood strikes. Vuckovic really does an incredible job at setting the tone and never letting things get too dark. Riot Girls is a fun ride that cranks the badass to eleven and leaves you feeling good when it is all said and done. And really, what more could you ask for?