Joe Lynch’s Everly opens with the screams of a sex slave played by Salma Hayek. It seems impossible things for her could get much worse — but they do. Emboldened by a detective who’s pledged to wrest her from gangster Taiko (Hiroyuki Watanabe), Hayek’s Everly has chosen today to fight for freedom. Good luck, lady.
Taiko has an arsenal: killer dogs, machine-gunning brutes, sai-stabbing prostitutes, and a cruel torturer who calls himself The Sadist (Togo Igawa), all happy to make house calls. Forget finding her long-lost mom and five-year-old daughter (Laura Cepeda and Aisha Ayamah) — Everly can’t even escape from her own apartment.
Everly has the heaving, bloody bosoms of an exploitation flick, yet Hayek gives the character powerful dignity. She’s no victim, nor an off-the-shelf “strong woman.” She’s an injured mother bear, bruised by regrets, making one final stand against her captors. When a goon gawks, “That’s a lot of dead whores,” she snaps, “You don’t get to call them that.” You sense that Lynch, who directed the D&D horror-comedy Knights of Badassdom, thinks a cleaver-wielding killer hooker is hilarious. Still, he’s careful not to let his camera leer.
When Everly watches video of her gang-rape, Lynch only shows her reaction: She deflates and decides to burn the footage, and we’re relieved never to have seen it. Like in The Raid and Dredd, claustrophobia is a virtue. By staging the whole film in her luxury pad with its lurid geisha prints and metal scorpion tchotchkes, Lynch can afford a Grand Guignol climax. Better still, his empathy earns him enough of our trust that we can laugh at his dark jokes, cheer for Everly, and go home without feeling too guilty.