The seedy underbelly of Manhattan’s streets are never really put to film in such a mainstream spotlight. Woody Allen’s Manhattan shows the sparkling beauty of the cities more idyllic scenery, whereas Abel Ferrara’s Ms .45 showcases the horrific crimes that can await around every corner. Marin Scorsese’s work in After Hours does this to some degree, but with a campy, comedic undertone that rides through the film throughout. The horrors are exposed to over-the-top, out of place situations and scenarios that break the shackles of realism, something Ferrara looks to keep us locked into. Ferrara’s early 80s exploitation film follows a shy, mute girl who finds herself turned into a vigilante after suffering horrific crimes only days before.
With a leading performance from Zoë Lund, Ms .45 leans into its narrative simplicity rather well. It’s extremely straight forward, yet jolts its audience back and forth through a thoroughly well-paced piece. What surprises me most about the film is how incredibly dark it is. Outside of the killings taking place throughout, there are some that paint iconic landmarks dotted around Manhattan as scenes of crime and murder, of sordid, unforgivable actions that detract from the glitz and glam of the scenery. It’s quite a beautiful bleeding of culture, the landmarks and iconography of the city that never sleeps presented with bloody murder around every corner. Ferrara’s worldbuilding here is key, and it does make for some surprisingly engaging, worthwhile moments.
There are, of course, some large issues within Ms .45. Its culmination as a concept isn’t followed through as well as I’d expected it to be, a bit of a dud ending with a utilisation of slow-motion wraps up the film rather clumsily, and the preceding moments at the party are of no real interest. I can appreciate how slice of life it is, in an odd way that is. A truly horrible thing happens to our protagonist, but the events around her are business as usual, outside of her cold-blooded killings. Lund’s leading performance showcases this brilliantly in a performance that is more or less wordless, emotive acting at its finest throughout here. She’s unfortunately one of the few competent enough to bring out a fresh or invigorating performance, with the rest of the cast slogging through their scenes without much interest or passion within them.
Aside from a few horribly cast supporting characters that live in the apartment building with Lund’s mute character, Thana, Ms .45 is a very competent, exploitative, seedy thriller from Ferrara. Not as strong as Bad Lieutenant from a visual or philosophical perspective, but far bloodier and more brutal in its delivery and musings on crime. A perfect preamble to the Harvey Keitel led 90s piece, Ms .45 stands out proudly as a good piece of exploitation, a real highlight of that early 80s branch of the genre. A strong leading character with a simple, straightforward objective and the guns necessary to get her there, a thoroughly enjoyable Ferrara piece.