A Vigilante follows Olivia Wilde’s protagonist Sadie, a survivor of domestic abuse who goes on a solo mission to help victims escape from their abusers. There is often an expectation that revenge films be totally action-packed, but Sarah Daggar-Nickson’s film gives us that and more by focusing on a very real human being struggling to live a normal life after experiencing unimaginable physical and emotional trauma and, ultimately, presenting viewers with a chance to empathize with survivors during their painful moments of healing. In between scenes where Sadie beats abusers into submission or trains herself in Krav Maga, we also get to peek into moments where she is forced to endure panic attacks alone in a motel room as a result of the trauma she is still trying to escape.
What Daggar-Nickson offers us is a refreshing take on a familiar story that is not told often enough. The film is clearly made with a sensitivity to abuse survivors, often cutting away from the violence that Sadie inflicts on abusers yet giving us the satisfaction of seeing justice served. One moving scene begins with the abuser already subdued, allowing the survivor to be front and center as she cathartically destroys their house. But this film is still extremely brutal, and Daggar-Nickson intelligently saves hard-hitting violence for some of the most powerful scenes in this story, making its minimal use quite effective. The film further honors victims and survivors in scenes at a support group that Sadie attends where the survivors and their harrowing stories are too real and raw to be actors’ performances. One woman speaks directly to camera as if she is urging survivors in the audience to continue fighting for their lives before cutting to Sadie who she’s actually addressing. It’s unique choices like these that make this film far more than your typical exploitative revenge film.
A Vigilante is not a superhero story; it’s a human story and that is why it is necessary viewing. It sheds light on the horrific realities of domestic abuse and reminds us that while the journey to healing is long, painful, and sometimes lonely, life after abuse is possible.